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UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




COLLEGE t«R*«Y 




I ' 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://archive.org/details/somefacesincrowdOOschu 



BY BUDD SCHULBERG 

The Disenchanted 
The Harder They Fall 
What Makes Sammy Run? 






YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 3 

A SHORT DIGEST OF A LONG NOVEL 45 

A TABLE AT CIRO's 50 

MEMORY IN WHITE 63 

THE BREAKING POINT 77 

THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 87 

A FOXHOLE IN WASHINGTON 100 

THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 107 

A NOTE ON THE LITERARY LIFE 121 

MY CHRISTMAS CAROL 131 

ENSIGN WEASEL 142 

THE DARE 165 

THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 183 

ENOUGH 204 

CROWD PLEASER 216 

THE LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 226 

THE TYPICAL GESTURE OF COLONEL DUGGAN 241 

MEAL TICKET 269 



short storie 



THIRD NIGHTCAP, 

WITH HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES 291 



OUR WHITE DEER 295 



«o 



ME FACES 



IN THE 



CROWD 



BUDD 



SCHULBERG 




I A N D O M HOUSE 
f E W YORK 



t? f & 



SECOND PRINTING 



Copyright, 1938, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947, 
1948, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, by Budd Schul- 
berg. Copyright, 1948, by '48 Magazine. 
Copyright, 1941, 1953, by Curtis Publishing 
Company. 



All rights reserved under International and 
Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Pub- 
lished in New York by Random House, Inc., 
and simultaneously in Toronto, Canada, by 
Random House of Canada, Limited. 



Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 53-5011 



The stories "Third Nightcap, with Historical 
Footnotes" and "A Foxhole in Washington" 
appeared originally in The New Yorker. 



Manufactured in the United States of America 
by H. Wolff, New York. Designed by Marshall 
Lee. 



for Vicky, Stevie and Davy 



SOME FACES IN THE CROWD 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 



That was a nice little summer job on KFOX until he 
came along. I'd spin the platters and dead-pan the com- 
mercials, I'd read the news off the AP wire — I was a kind 
of transmission belt between Fox, Wyoming, and the out- 
side world. For seventy-five a week. Just making enough 
to keep me in nylons and pay my way at the local beauty 
parlor. And doing enough to satisfy a nagging conscience. 

But this isn't getting us to Lonesome Rhodes. The time 
is one quiet weekday morning when I have the shop 
pretty much to myself. There's just me and Farrell who 
sits there with all the little knobs and gets us on the air, 
hangover and all. The boss is off somewhere taking his 
ease. Joe Aarons, our staff-of-lifer, is out telling tradesmen 
their businesses will cave in if they don't hurry up ad- 
vertise on KFOX. OK? Ready? Blow the trumpets. Sound 
the cymbals. Enter Mister Rhodes. 



He's big and he's Western, but he isn't stringbean like 
Gary. He's kind of big all over, like a husky fullback 
three years after he broke training. He's got a ruddy, 
laughing face, the haw-haw kind. He must be well into 
his thirties, but he's boyish. He stands there in an un- 
pressed brown suit and cowboy boots, shifting from one 
foot to another, shy-like, though something tells me deep 
down he is about as shy as a bulldozer. I spin one — one of 
my old faves, Berrigan's "Can't Get Started" and I duck 
to find out what brings to our wireless castle this happy 
big one I see through the glass. 

"Ma'am," he says, "my name is Rhodes, Larry Rhodes. 
They call me Lonesome." 

"Who calls you lonesome?" I say. 

He grinned a nice warm grin. Too nice. Too warm. 

"Lonesome, that's my professional name, ma'am." 

"Oh, a professional. What are you a professional at?" 

"Singin', ma'am. Folk singin'." 

Now I know that these days you are supposed to love 
folk singin'. If you don't drool over "Barbara Allen," if 
you don't swoon to the "Blue-Tail Fly" or "The E-ri-e 
Canal" you are considered un-hep, unwholesome and 
perhaps a trifle unpatriotic. Well, I plead guilty. 

I look at the big clock in the broadcasting room and I 
see the impatient second hand sweeping on to my next 
cue. So I run in to tell the waiting world of Fox, Wyoming, 
and environs that if they want the finest dinner they 
ever had for one dollar thirty-five what are they waiting 
for, hurry their lassies down to the Little Bluebird Grill. 
Then I spin Fats on his own "Ain't Misbehavin' " and I 
come out for another peek at Western man on the hoof. 

He beams on me. "You must be a mighty smart little 
gal to be handlin' this here raddio station all by yourself." 

"My good man," I said, "I am able to read without 
laughing out loud any commercial that is placed before 
me. I am able to pick out a group of records and point 



ARKANSAS TRAVELER 



to the guy in the control room each time I want him to 
play one. And that is how you run a rural radio station." 

"Haw," observed Lonesome Rhodes. 

"I might add," I said, "that we are not in the market 
for live entertainment. Assuming that is what you repre- 
sent. Except for the news, and once in a while an inter- 
view with a celebrity who wanders into our corral, we 
live on wax. We spin for our suppers." 

He chuckled. Yes, warmly and nicely. He shook all 
over when he chuckled. He looked like Santa Claus rolled 
back to his middle thirties. 

"You're a real five-gaited talkin' gal," he said. "Now 
you jest set yerself down an' try to keep still and give old 
Lonesome five minutes of yer invaluable time." 

The way he said it and the size of him grinning down 
at me were not unpersuasive. What he offered was limit- 
less confidence in his own charm. Now that you've seen 
him thousands of times you know what I mean. 

"I brought along my git-tar," he said. "How can you 
send away from your door a fella who goes to all that 
trouble jest to entertain you?" 

As a matter of fact we were hooked into a national 
soap opera called "John's Office Wife," so I was on my 
own for the next half-hour. "All right," I said, "entertain 
me." 

He opened the guitar case and a Racing Form fell out. 

"How did you do yesterday?" I said. 

He shook his head and shrugged and then he grinned. 
"I had a tough break. Shy Lady was ready to make her 
move, but she couldn't find racing room." 

"All right, sing," I said. "Let's have 'Home on the 
Range.' " 

The guitar case was a large one and it also held a 
change of clothes and his toilet articles. "I made this my- 
self with an old cigar box, a piece of piano wire I found 
in a junkyard and a little spit," he said, caressing the in- 



strument. "Back in my home town, Riddle, Arkansas, 
they call me the Stradivarius of the cigar-box g^-tar. 
Them folks got a heap o' culture in Riddle." He put his 
ear down to that god-awful-looking thing and began to 
tune it elaborately. 

"This isn't Carnegie Hall," I said, "and I only have 
twenty minutes." 

I hate guitars. I used to hate banjos, but I think I 
hate guitars more. Except for Segovia or Vincente Gomez. 

"I will first sing that old folk song 'We'll Have Tea for 
Two if You'll Bring the Tea.' " 

A Western clown, I thought to myself. 

He poised his fingers over the strings and announced, 
"I should say at this point that I do not know how to play 
the g^-tar. I sent for a home-study course, but not having 
a home the lessons never seem to catch up to me. A folk 
singer without a git-tax is like soft-boiled eggs without a 
spoon, kind of embarrassin', so I carry the git-tax along 
t' keep up appearances." 

I made a fairly good job of not laughing. But he had 
something. To look at his big hearty puss and the way he 
enjoyed himself, it made you want to smile. 

He started to sing one of my favorite hates, "Little 
Red Wing." It was only slightly awful, but it was rapidly 
getting worse. He broke off after a few bars and said, "If 
you think this is good I wish you could hear my Cousin 
Abernathy sing it. He does it through his nose and on a 
nice damp day he gets an effect that's darn near as good 
as playin' a comb through toilet paper." 

He talked that way all through the number. He kept 
reminding himself of funny stories from that outrageous 
home town, Riddle, Arkansas. He said the riddle was how 
it could call itself a town when it had so few people in it. 
He said there was only one family in the town, his own kin, 
the Rhodeses. Population 372 and one half. He said the 
extra half was for his Great Uncle Bloomer who had two 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 7 

heads. "But he only had two hands and one mouth so we 
figured he was only entitled to one vote and one jug of 
corn a day. But believe me that fella's got two good heads 
on his shoulders. It took two of 'em to get the last word 
with my Aunt Lucybelle." He said there was so much 
intermarriage in Riddle, Arkansas, that he figured out 
one time his mother-in-law's kid brother was actually his 
step-daddy. How he, Lonesome, ever came out so normal 
and intelligent he would never know, he said. He said in 
Riddle they called him The Perfessor because he was the 
only fella in town who ever got through the third grade. 
"And I was only fourteen at the time," he said. "The 
only other member of my family to be associated with 
an educational institution was my Great Great Uncle 
Wilbraham. He's been at Harvard for years. My daddy 
says he occupies one of the most important bottles in the 
medical lab, but I wouldn't swear to it because Daddy is 
always boasting about his kin." 

And all this time in bits and snatches he's singing 
"Little Red Wing." 

I didn't know whether it was wonderful or ghastly but 
I'll admit I didn't dial out. He finished with a great throb- 
bing chord. "That is the lost chord," he said. "I picked 
it up in a saloon in Jackson Hole one night and I never 
have been able to find anybody who would own up to it. 
. . . Haw haw haw," he chuckled from deep in his belly. 
"You bring the money, Mama, I'll bring the fun." 

Well, I don't know. He was outrageous. He was bois- 
terous and effective and he had a certain animal charm 
that made me feel uneasy. 

He was just winding up when our boss came in. He's 
a rich man who owns a chain of rural newspapers and 
affects cowboy boots and a white ten-gallon hat like Gene 
Autry. He is just as crazy about folk singin' as I loathe, 
despise and abominate it. He takes one good look at 
Lonesome and what he sees appeals to his Amuricanism. 



Now I happen to feel strongly about America, from 
General George to General Ike, but our boss, Jay Mac- 
donald, loves America as if it were his own private 
potato patch. In his mind, he and America are prac- 
tically interchangeable. You know the type. Well, he 
wants to know if Lonesome can sing "Bury Me Not on 
the Lone Prairie." Mr. Macdonald says he can always tell 
when it is sung right because the last line trailing off into 
the mournful silence invariably makes him reach for his 
handkerchief. Well, Lonesome gives it to him, with all 
the stops out. Right down to the last phrase of gooey 
self-pity on the Lo-an Pray-reeee. . . . Old Macdonald 
reaches for his hanky. I see this Lonesome Rhodes is no 
fool. He has played it very straight. Macdonald stifles a 
sob and says, "Dammy, I love that old song. A real true- 
blue Amurican song." Lonesome whips out a coarse red 
handkerchief and sheds a tear or two of his own. 

"A-course I don' know too much about this here raddio 
busyness," Lonesome concedes, in what has now become a 
household phrase, "but it seems to me a raddio station in 
a hunert-per cent Amurican community like Fox could do 
with a bit of its own old-fashioned Amurican singin' an' 
talkin'." 

With eyes still damp with patriotic emotion, Mac- 
donald allowed as to how that was so. And next thing you 
knew, he was allowing as to how a half-hour spot must be 
made in the daytime schedule for my new fellow-staffer 
Lonesome Rhodes. 

Well, I can't build any fake suspense about a name 
that has become as world famous as Lonesome Rhodes'. 
Most of you have read Life and that Time cover story 
and a dozen other articles on how it all happened. Lone- 
some got on there for half an hour singing "Little Mohee" 
— just that one song for the whole program because he 
kept interrupting himself with funny stories, family anec- 
dotes, homilies, recipes for pineapple upside-down cake 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 9 

the way his Maw made it in Riddle, Arkansas, and any- 
thing else that popped into his cagey, folksy, screwball 
mind. 

The next day I have a new job. I am answering Lone- 
some Rhodes' fan mail. Seems as if half the population of 
Fox, Wyoming, is in his pocket. More letters in one day, 
says our boss, than we had been getting in three months. 
And I had to answer them in Lonesome's lingo. "I sure 
am tickled yer out there a-listenin'." 

The boss ups him to three times a day for an hour. 
Lonesome just gets on there and drools. Anything that 
comes into his head, that's what the people want to hear. 
He's got the popular touch. A man of the people. The 
way he wraps himself around that mike you'd think it 
was his best girl or his favorite horse. He says, "Top o' 
the mornin' to ya, Ma — mmmm, that coffee smells good! — 
wish I had time to come over an' give ya a hand with 
them dishes," and at least three dozen housewives plunk 
themselves right down at their kitchen tables and write 
him letters about how well he understands them. Some- 
times he kids the commercials and sometimes he reads 
them as if he were on his knees proposing. Rarely the 
same way twice. He's smart. That's what's wrong about 
him. I'm seeing quite a lot of him on the air and off, and 
he isn't at all the simple, fun-loving oaf he pretends. He 
drinks too much, and he's indiscriminate with women. I 
see the way he eyes all the girls when we go out together. 
He's not a wolf, he's King Kong. He has to prove what a 
helluva fella he is every five minutes. And he seems madly 
in love with Lonesome Rhodes. The little success he's 
had in Fox doesn't surprise him at all. "It's my natural 
magnetism," he explained, "my God-given magnetism." 

"That magnetism wasn't even keeping you in beans a 
few weeks ago," I reminded him. 

"That's because I didn't have you, Marshy," he said. 

"You haven't g-ot me now." 



10 



Not that he hadn't tried. 

"But you're what's keeping me here," he said. "I was 
always a wanderer. My feet get itchy after a few weeks. 
With the singin' an' the talkin' I'm always good for a 
few bucks wherever I go. I play the fair grounds and the 
barrel-houses. All I need to kill the people is to stay in 
one place. I never knew a woman good enough to stand 
still for. Until I found you, Marshy." 

So it seems I had the love of Lonesome Rhodes. I was 
also responsible, in an indirect way, for elevating him 
from folk singer to political sage. It happened at the bar 
of El Rancho Gusto. The local sheriff, who was running 
for re-election, had had a snootful and in the dim light 
of the lounge he mistook me for Yvonne de Garbo or 
somebody. A pass took place. Lonesome Rhodes rose to de- 
fend my honor. Lonesome had had not one drink but one 
bottle too many and his aim was inaccurate. I sometimes 
wonder if his fist had ever connected with the jaw of the 
candidate, would he have gone on to his fabulous career. 
Missing the would-be sheriff left him with a king-sized 
frustration. 

Next morning he worked it out of his system on the 
air. He said this fella who wanted to keep on being 
sheriff of a great, thriving, forward-looking community 
like Fox, Wyoming, didn't even deserve to be sheriff of 
Lonesome's home town, Riddle, Arkansas. Or maybe, he 
said, that's exactly what he did deserve. In Riddle, he 
said, the way they picked their sheriffs was they figured 
out which fella could best be spared from useful labor. 
In some places, he said, the village halfwit has to be put 
on town relief. But in Riddle, as an economy measure, 
they made a sheriff out of him. He said that is pretty much 
what Fox would be doing if they re-elected this poor fella 
of theirs. 

The following day I had to answer fifty letters from 
listeners suggesting that Lonesome himself run for sheriff. 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 11 

He answered some of them on the air. He said he would 
have to decline the honor as he had never gotten around 
to learning how to read and write and he had heard that 
this sort of erudition came in handy if you were going to 
be a sheriff. He said the only difference between him and 
the other fella was that he, Lonesome, admitted he didn't 
know nuthin'. 

He kept this up day after day all in good clean fun 
until he had that poor man crazy. And the people loved 
it. In fact he could just stand there picking his teeth over 
the microphone and the fans ate it up. For instance, one 
day he said into the live mike — and he wasn't kidding 
either: "Marshy, I'm tired today, didn't get my beauty 
sleep last night, hold the mike while I caulk off for a 
minute or two." And he handed me the mike and closed 
his eyes. I could have killed him. I got out a couple of 
letters I was answering and read them to take up the 
slack. But when I was half through, he mumbled, "Shhhh, 
Marshy, yer disturbin' my sleep, le's keep it absolutely 
quiet." So thirty seconds of dead time went out over 
KFOX. Anybody else would have been fired. But when 
Lonesome Rhodes did it he got fan mail. 

On election night the sheriff, whose margin last time 
had been 362 to 7, found himself licked for the first time 
in sixteen years. The fellow who won, an undertaker 
named Gorlick, got more votes this time than he had in 
the last four campaigns combined. (His seven votes in 
the last election had come from members of his family.) 
Lonesome introduced the new sheriff on his program next 
day by saying that Gorlick obviously was an unselfish 
public servant, for the better sheriff he was the less busi- 
ness he'd have for his undertakin' parlor. 

That and some more of the same was how Lonesome 
got his first break in Time. I could hardly believe it when 
a local photographer phoned the station to tell us Time 
had called him to come up and get a picture of us. I say us 



12 



because Lonesome was making a kind of assistant celeb- 
rity out of me. If he couldn't find something — in a playful 
mood he might pretend he had mislaid the commercial 
— he would call into the mike: "Marshy, Marshy — where 
is that forgetful girl? Neighbors, if there's anything you 
don't like on this here program I want you to remember 
it is Marshy's fault, so send your letters of complaint to 
her." I was always the patsy, the fall girl. So Time said 
they wanted me in the act too. The still man came up to 
the studio on time, but Lonesome wasn't around. That 
had become one of my headaches. Getting Lonesome to 
the studio on time. He was just a small-town star, but he 
was developing a talent for big-time ways. Twenty minutes 
before the morning show I'd find him in his room. The 
only way I could wake him was with a cold wet washrag 
right over the big, lovable, exasperating face. Lonesome 
Rhodes. My life work. 

The Time piece had it pretty accurate. They called 
Lonesome Rhodes a younger, fatter, coarser Will Rogers 
in the American grain of tobacco-chewing, cracker-barrel, 
comic philosophers, a caricature of the folk hero who has 
always been able to make Americans nod their heads and 
grin and say, "Yep, that fella ain't so dumb as he looks!" 
It was hard to tell whether Time was putting the laurel 
wreath or the knock on him. You know the style. But it 
didn't matter. Lonesome was in. The next day I got a 
call from Chicago. It was the J & W Agency and they 
wanted Lonesome. Right away. Five hundred a week. 
There was nothing like him on big-time radio, the man 
said. A simple, lovable, plain-talking, down-to-earth Ameri- 
can. I said Mr. Simple-Lovable would call them back. 

I found the great American just where I expected to 
find him, in the sack in his room with a half -empty jug 
of blended by the bed. I said, "Get up, you slob, destiny 
is calling." 

"Collect?" he said. 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 13 

"Chicago," I said. "J & W. Five hundred cash money a 
week. One hour every morning. Week-ends free. And all 
you have to do is be your own irresistible self." 

He looked at me with those big, bloodshot, roly-poly 
eyes. "What do you think we oughta do, Marshy?" 

"You/' I said. "You can find yourself a new slave in 
Chicago." 

"I'm gonna marry you in Chicago," he said. "I'm a- 
gonna make a honest woman of you in the Windy City, 
little gal." 

Among his many bad habits was his way of creating 
the impression, through careful innuendo, that we were a 
team, biologically speaking. This was a figment of his 
imagination and designs, but since when have people 
ever accepted truth when nasty rumors are so much more 
fun? "Why talk of marriage when your heart is wrapped 
up in somebody else?" I said. "How could I ever replace 
Lonesome Rhodes in your affection?" 

"Marshy, I've known some pretty good-looking broads 
in my get-arounds, but they always took me apart. You're 
not going to win any beauty contests, but you put me to T 
gether. You get me up in time to go to work. You get me 
on and off. You keep in touch with my public. You cue 
me when I start repeatin' myself. You always tell me 
when I'm gettin' close to the line. I lean on you. So you 
say yes and we'll go to Chicago and make it hand over 
fist and you'll be the rich Mrs. Rhodes. I can't afford to 
lose you. You're the smartest good-lookin' gal I ever got 
hold of." 

"Take your hand away," I said. "This is business. 
Shall I tell them yes?" 

"If you're in it." 

"Well, only as a job," I said, "a job I can quit when 
I've had enough. You understand?" 

"Okay," he said, "I'll take my chances." 

"So I'll tell them yes." 



14 



"Only not for five hundred. Lonesome Rhodes is not a 
three-figure man." 

He had started at seventy-five like me and was getting 
a fast century now. 

I called back J & W in Chicago and gave them Mr. 
Rhodes' estimate of his own value and they said even 
with that publicity from Time a four-figure bill was too 
big for a starter. I ran back to tell Lonesome (in his bath- 
robe drinking beer now) and he said, "I better get on 
the phone and talk to 'em myself." It took him an hour 
to pull himself into his clothes and get down to the station 
where he had me get on the other phone and take down 
what they said so he could hold them to it. Where he got 
that adding-machine mind I don't know, but he was 
never a cowhand when it came to finance. This is what 
Lonesome Rhodes, that simple know-nothing troubadour, 
suggested: That he work gratis for nothing for two weeks. 
At the end of that period if they want him to continue 
they pay him his thousand a week including back pay 
for the trial period. And at the end of twenty-six weeks 
an option for fifteen hundred for the next twenty-six 
weeks. "A-course I'm not tryin' t' run your busyness, 
gents," he Arkansighed, "a'm jest tryin' t' give ya an idea 
what a fella figures he's worth. Oh yes, an' transportation. 
Transportation fer my li'l ol' pardner Marshy Coulihafi 
and yours truly." 

So we flew in to Chicago and now Lonesome was on 
coast-to-coast. The show was called "Your Arkansas 
Traveler." It was pretty much the same routine that had 
made him the idol of Fox, Wyoming. With one important 
exception. That sheriff election had gone to his head. He 
wasn't content just to sing his old songs and tell funny 
stories about his family in Riddle, Arkansas, any more. He 
had to hold forth. It is one of the plagues our age is heir 
to. No longer do disc jockeys play the music. Now they 
lecture you on how to solve the traffic problems of New 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 15 

York and improve the United Nations. That's the bug 
that was biting Lonesome. He was rushing in where not 
only angels but a majority of fools would fear to tread. I 
did my small best to talk him out of it and get him to 
know his place. But he was male-stubborn and he knew so 
little that any meager idea he had came to him as a 
world-shaking revelation that had to be shared with his 
public. I suppose the doctors would call it delusions of 
grandeur. It seems to be one of the main symptoms of the 
dread disease of success. 

He had only been going a few days, for instance, when 
he interrupted the singing of "Barbara Allen" with the 
announcement that he was pretty sick of that song any- 
way and he would rather talk about the street-cleaning 
problem in Chicago. He said that Chicago reminded him 
of Riddle except that Riddle was a one-horse town and 
Chicago was a ten-thousand horse town and the difference 
between one horse and ten thousand horses ain't hay. 
The next day a Citizens' Clean-Up Committee was formed 
with Lonesome as honorary chairman. On his program 
next day Lonesome sang "Sweet Violets" in honor of the 
clean-up campaign and he said it gave him a funny feel- 
ing to be connected with "sech a projeck" because his 
Grandpaw Bascom used to call his paw a sissy for in- 
sisting on changing his clothes every year. 

It was only a matter of weeks before Grandpaw Bascom 
and Cousin Abernathy and Great Great Uncle Wilbraham 
and the rest of Lonesome's so-called family had become 
public property. The famous comic-strip artist Hal 
Katz came to Lonesome with a deal to do a daily and 
Sunday strip around the Riddle characters, featuring a 
Lonesome-like folk singer to be called Hill-Bilious Harry. 
What was in it for Lonesome was a thousand a week and 
a percentage of subsidiary loot. So by the time the option 
was taken up, Lonesome, our overgrown Huck, wasn't 
exactly going barefoot. He was pulling down twenty-five 



16 



hundred a week, not a bad living for a country boy. 
Lonesome was not impervious to money, either. Au con- 
traire, he was decidedly pervious. He began spending it 
as if he had had it all his life, only more so. He lined up 
a pretty fancy flop at the Ambassador East and bought 
himself a powder-blue Cadillac that just said "Lonesome" 
on it. A monogram would have been too ritzy, he said. 
Right away he had one of those Swiss 18K calendar 
watches and a closet full of suits all a little baggy and 
country-cut but good goods. He was a folk singer, re- 
member? 

He went in for me, too. He never kept his promise 
about my being strictly business. He always figured the 
natural charm would finally overcome me. I was his one- 
'n-only, his indispensable can't-live-without. One night the 
phone woke me up and it was Lonesome getting ready to 
jump out the window if I didn't marry him. He said he 
felt confused about all the success and that I was his 
anchor. His anchor to reality is what I think he said. That 
is not exactly a compliment but I said I would think it 
over. I don't know if I was in love with him. Call it 90 
per cent disgust and 10 per cent maternal. Oh yes, I'm 
the maternal type as well as the professional woman. To 
tell the solid truth, I was always ready to give up the 
high rank and all the loot whenever I found the right 
man. At first a girl thinks kids would be too much trouble, 
and then that maybe there's something to it even if it 
is trouble, and later that her life will not be complete 
without them, and finally that it is the one thing in the 
world she really wants. I was hovering around stage C 
the morning that Lonesome called. I told him to ask me 
at a more reasonable hour and when he was stone sober. 
And not to muck it up with suicide threats. What was a 
down-to-earth simple-grained one-hundred-and-ten-per cent 
Amurican doing with that psycho out-the-window talk? He 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 17 

said, "Bless you, Marshy, you do me good. Even when I'm 
the greatest, you'll be right alongside me." 

"Lie back and get some sleep and do yourself some 
good," I told him. 

The sponsors were awfully happy with Lonesome. He 
was the hottest salesman on radio-TV. He'd open with 
"Look down, look down that lonesome road," and then 
he'd slide into "Hiya, neighbors, this is yer Arkansas 
Traveler," and he'd have the people eating out of his 
big and sometimes trembling hand. He'd say, "Shucks, 
folks, I don't know if you'll like the stuff, maybe you got 
funny taste, but / love it, it's what makes my cheeks so 
rosy," and the assistant geniuses of the advertising com- 
panies would shake their heads and acknowledge Lone- 
some as a full-blown number-one genius. A dry cereal 
called Shucks came out with his picture on it. He got the 
idea of forming Lonesome Rhodes, Inc., so he could keep 
some of the gravy. It turned out he was nuts for cars — he 
was on a vehicular kick — so he bought a Jaguar to keep 
his Cadillac company. His Nielsen kept climbing until he 
was almost as popular as Jackie Gleason and Bishop Sheen. 
And when it came to getting his stuff across he could 
more than hold his own with both those boys. "He's got 
it." That was the only way the advertising brains could 
explain it. "He got it," they'd say, and they would all 
nod their heads with a sense of accomplishment and go 
out to a long lunch of martinis. 

Lonesome branched out from sanitation problems to ad- 
vice on rent controls and diplomatic appointments. And 
became not only a political pundit but a good Samaritan. 
He built up a little department for himself called "My 
Brother's Keeper." During the four and one-half minutes 
for BK, as we called it, he would appeal for some personal 
cause. For instance, a little boy was dying in Meridian, 
Wisconsin, and his blood wasn't one of the two usual 



18 



types. Lonesome told the story with all the stops out and 
asked for blood. Half an hour after the broadcast there 
had been nearly a thousand calls from all over the United 
States. That's what they call penetration. Lonesome was 
just lousy with penetration. A widow in New Jersey with 
nine kids had her house burn down and Lonesome asked 
for the dough to rebuild it. "Nobody send more'n a buck," 
he said. ''It's us ordinary folks got to do this thing." Us 
ordinary folks threw in about twice as much as they 
needed to replace the house. Lonesome thought up a 
gimmick for that, too. He organized the Lonesome Rhodes 
Foundation. Anything over the amount he asked for 
specific cases went into the pot. It was a tax-exempt setup 
and some big names kicked in, some out of pure generos- 
ity, I suppose, and maybe some for the publicity value of 
having Lonesome say, "Thank you Oscar Zilch, you're good 
people," over the air. The foundation became kind of an 
obsession with Lonesome. To listen to him you would 
have thought that no other charities and no other humani- 
tarianism was being perpetrated in America. Celebrities 
who, for one reason or another, failed to come through for 
the foundation became the targets of public and private 
abuse from Lonesome Rhodes. He would do everything 
from questioning the legitimacy of their birth to hinting 
at their involvement in the latest Communist spy ring. 
BK and the foundation did some good, I will admit, but 
at no small cost to those of us around him who had to 
put up with the emotional wear and tear of his playing 
God in a hair shirt. 

It was about this time, near the end of his second 
twenty-six weeks, that Lonesome took his first fling into 
international politics. Until now he had contented himself 
with just telling us how to solve our domestic problems. 
But suddenly — I think it was from getting indigestion 
after eating some tainted shrimps in a Chinese restau- 
rant — he went global. He warned the Chinese that if they 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 19 

didn't stop messing around with us in Korea he'd stop 
sending his shirts out to a Chinese laundry. Back in Riddle 
there was a Chinaboy who aimed to marry into Grandpaw 
Bascom's side of the family, he said. Grandpaw told the 
Chinese he couldn't marry in until he went 'n cut off his 
pigtail. The Chinaboy said Hokay and went out to the 
barn and cut off the tail of Grandpaw's favorite hawg. 
"That's why I sez even when ya think ya got an agree- 
ment, never trust a Chinaman," Lonesome said. 

I tried to tell Lonesome I thought the story was pretty 
irresponsible, when we were still trying to work out a 
truce that would save American lives. But darned if a 
couple of senators didn't write in and congratulate Lone- 
some for his brilliantly witty analysis of "our naive if not 
criminally mistaken foreign policy." Lonesome was in- 
vited to address Veterans United and the Daughters of 
the Constitution and to write a daily column of political 
jokes for a national syndicate. I don't know how many 
thousands wrote in after that Riddle Chinaboy joke telling 
Lonesome he was right and that we should break off ne- 
gotiations in Korea and that this country would be a 
sight better off if we had a level-headed, plain-talkin' 
fella like Lonesome Rhodes as Secretary of State. 

I tried to tell him, "Lonesome, you're fine as long as 
you gag your way through Old Smoky and tell your jokes 
about Cousin Abernathy in Riddle. But don't you think 
before you go handing out pronouncements on China 
that you should know just a little bit about what you're 
talking about?" 

In the voice of the people, Lonesome said, "The people 
never know. The people is as mule-stupid as I am. We 
jest feel what's right." 

I made a futile effort to explain: he was no more the 
voice of the people than I was, with my corrupted Vassar 
accent. In the sheep's clothing of rural Americana, he was 
a shrewd businessman with a sharp eye on the main 



20 



chance. He was a complicated human being, an intensely 
self-centered one, who chose to wear the mask of the 
stumbling, bumbling, good-natured, "Shucks-folks-you- 
know-more-about-this-stuff-'n-I-do" oaf. 

Like the time Lonesome made a really fine, moving 
talk about the noble institution of marriage. He had been 
singing "The Weaver's Song" and he cut into that tender 
ballad to ask everyone who might be contemplating di- 
vorce to try just a little harder to see the other side of the 
argument. "Never leave a first love just to have the last 
word," he murmured to the accompaniment of a few soft 
chords on that makeshift guitar. The response was fan- 
tastic. Some five thousand couples wrote in to tell Lone- 
some they were "reconsidering" and he promised the rec- 
onciled couple who wrote the best letter on why they 
made up that he would have them on his program and 
blow them to a whirlwind week-end in Chicago ("Second 
Honeymoon") at his own expense (tax deductible). Easy 
for him to say. I had to read, sort out and grade the 
darn letters. Such drool you never heard. Lonesome was 
described as a cross between the Lord Jesus and Santa 
Claus with the better features of both. Lonesome was 
getting so benevolent it was coming out his ears. 

Forty-eight hours after Lonesome had come out un- 
equivocally for marital bliss I was in my apartment work- 
ing through the pile-up of letters when the phone rang. 
It was a woman I had never heard of before who said her 
name was Mrs. Rhodes. "Lonesome's mother?" I asked in 
my sweetest maybe-daughter-in-law-to-beish voice. "No, 
his wife," was the answer. "I wanna see you." 

I must admit I was a little curious to see her, too. 

She was about forty, in the process of getting fat, but 
you could see that she had been attractive once in a showy, 
third-rate way. Being a snob by instinct and a democrat 
by conviction, I tried to reject the word "coarse." But it 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 21 

hung over us like a low fog dampening our conversation. 

"So you're Lonesome's new tootsie," she opened. "Well I 
hope you have more luck keeping him home than I did." 

"I am simply a business associate and personal friend 
of Mr. Rhodes," I said, cool, collected and unconvincing. 

"Come off it, miss," she said. "The floor manager on 
your program is my brother-in-law's first cousin. He writes 
me what's been going on." 

"I must say that it is gracious of you to inform me 
that Mr. Rhodes is married," I said. "I think he might 
have done me the courtesy of telling me himself." 

"Mr. Rhodes never did nobody no courtesies," said Mrs. 
Rhodes. "If you want my opinion, Mr. Rhodes is a no- 
good bastard." 

"I have no doubt your opinion is based on considerable 
experience," I said. 

"Not only is Mr. Rhodes a bastard," Mrs. Rhodes went 
on, "Mr. Rhodes is a crazy bastard. A psycho-something or 
other. His skull thumper told me." 

"Skull thumper?" 

"His mind doctor," she explained. With her index fin- 
ger she described a series of sympathetic circles against her 
temple. "Bells in the batfry." 

"I see. And may I ask just exactly what is the purpose 
of your visit?" 

"Get Larry to shell out three thousand a month and 
I'll divorce him. Otherwise I not only won't divorce him, 
I'll make it plenty hot for the both of you." 

"I am not engaged to your husband," I said. "I mean I 
— I suggest you discuss this matter between yourselves." 

"Larry thinks he has to have every broad he sees," 
said Mrs. Rhodes. "And as soon as he has 'em he calls 'em 
tramps and leaves 'em for something new. It's part of his 
psycho-something or other." 

"A very interesting diagnosis," I said, thanking my 



22 



little stars I had never succumbed to the jovial, overgrown 
lap-dog passes of Lonesome Larry. "But I still suggest 
this is a matter between you and Mr. Rhodes." 

"He's a two-timing no-goodnick," she said. "I caught him 
red-handed with my best girl friend. He broke my jaw." 

"It seems to be working quite effectively now," I said, 
and showed the lady to the door. 

I don't know why, it didn't really concern me except 
that Mrs. Rhodes' husband had proposed to me and I was 
curious, which Mr. Webster defines as habitually in- 
quisitive. I called him at the Ambassador and told him I 
had something on my mind. "Marshy, come on over," he 
boomed. "Come over an' have a drink an' hear the good 
news. You'll be proud of me." 

"You," I said. "You hypocrite. You pious bigmouth. 
You oracle, you." 

"Marshy," he said, and he tried to laugh it away. He 
could commit murder with that haw-haw-haw and every- 
body would think he was being a laugh riot. "You just 
need a drink, Marshy honey." 

"Something is cockeyed wrong with the world," I said. 

"Why for? Why for, my lovely marshmallow?" 

"The way people listen to you," I said. "The way they 
believe you. It's fake, it's mirrors, it's false bottoms. You 
and your Cadillacs and your Grandpaw Bascom. A man of 
the people. My derriere." 

"Marshy," he said, "you're tired, you've been working 
too hard. You need a vacation. We'll go to Sea Island." 

"Damn it, we're not a we" I said. "I hate you, hate 
what you stand for." 

"What do you stand for?" he said, and the easy laughter 
was gone from his voice now. 

"I — I don't know. Something better. Something true 
somewhere. I can't explain it very well. All I know is I 
hate phonies, sham is for the birds." 

"Take it easy, Marshy. You're the boss. I carry the ball 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 23 

but you call the signals, you know that. Now just come 
over and relax with some of this good Irish drinking 
whiskey. Let Uncle Lonesome put a friendly arm around 
you and tell you how rich an' pretty you're gonna be." 

Well, I went over. I tell you I wasn't in love with the 
man, just involved with him in some perverse profes- 
sional way. He wasn't alone, he was with Tommy de 
Palma. De Palma was one of those advertising-agency 
boys. Bright. Quick. Immaculate. In the next life he'll 
make a good pilot fish for sharks. I don't mean to go into 
de Palma but I can't resist one short take: he's the kind 
of fellow who attaches himself to a celebrity, acts the 
part of the responsible friend, solemnly warns he is going 
to tell the truth even if it hurts, and then plays back in 
slightly off-beat fashion all the things the great one wants 
to hear. Essentially it's a business relationship, but it 
poses as rather an intense personal friendship. Tommy de 
Palma, the account executive who handled the Lonesome 
Rhodes-Peerless account, was now Lonesome's best friend. 

Tidings of great commercial joy were being toasted 
with that bottle of Jameson's. 

"Marshy, the busher days are over, we're moving in on 
the big stuff. New York! New Yorkl Big frog in big pond 
department." 

The plan had size, all right. Lonesome was going to do 
two different big shows, the ballad-singing "Arkansas 
Traveler" thing, and a biweekly news commentary to be 
called "The Cracker Barrel," Lonesome Rhodes the hay 
seed philosopher jest talkin' things over with his Cousin 
Abernathy, his Grandpaw Bascom and his Aunt Lucy- 
belle. "We'll chew up everything from the UN to tax 
evasion and back to Riddle," Lonesome said. "And we'll 
make a lousy fortune, Marshy girl. We ain't a-goin' t* 
work through no advertisin' agency, neither. Why give 
them 15 per cent of five G's a week? We'll be our own 
advertising agency. Tommy here'll head it up for me. 



24 



It's gonna be Rhodes, de Palma and Coulihan. We're 
partners, Marshy. Put 'er there, pardner. You'll be draw- 
ing five hundred a week for openers." 

"What have you boys been smoking?" I said. 

"It's a shoo-in, Marcia." De Palma took over in that 
sure, slick, black-knit-tie, bright-young-senior way he had. 
You could see him being the most enterprising prexy the 
Psi U's ever had. "Lonesome is the biggest thing in home 
entertainment today. His Nielsen is seventeen point nine. 
His penetration is . . ." 

"Marshy," Lonesome said. "In three years I'm going to 
be a lousy millionaire. I'm going to have half a dozen 
cars. I'll have two hundred suits. I'll have a private rail- 
road car and a yacht, maybe a plane and a big place in 
the country. And I'll tell the people what to eat and who 
to help and what to think." 

"The most authentic voice of the people since Will 
Rogers," said Tommy de Palma. 

" Bigger 'n Rogers," Lonesome said. "I got more me- 
diums to be big on. The biggest." 

"The greatest," said Tommy de Palma. 

"And without you, Marshy," Lonesome said, " — and 
that's the reason I wanted you to come over — without 
you, why kid myself? — I'd still be a bum." 

"Let's face it," I said. "With me you're still a bum. A 
bum with a corny magic touch. A bum with money." 

"I do a lot of good," Lonesome said. "The charities. 
The BK. I'm gonna start plugging a Lonesome Rhodes 
Summer Camp for poor city kids. Before I'm through 
with 'em every sucker in the country is gonna love me." 

"Mrs. Rhodes doesn't love you," I said. 

"That bag," he said. "That bad dream. My nemesis. 
She just called me." 

"Some simple soul," I said. "Some spokesman for the 
good family life. Next time you propose to anybody you 
might consider getting unmarried first." 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 25 

"Marshy, so help me God, I got a divorce in Mexico, 
but the judge got indicted for fraud, so my ex claims it 
didn't take. Now she thinks she's got a gun at my head. 
Well, OK, I'll give 'er her stinkin' three thousand a month 
— anything to get her off my neck. I'm nuts about you, 
Marshy. I can't live without you." 

"On the cigar-box guitar it might sound good," I said. 

De Palma rose, straightened his creases and said, "Gotta 
run, kiddies. Early-morning golf game with Mr. Peerless 
himself. Here's a good-night drink to Rhodes, de Palma 
and Coulihan. Dat's how dynasties are born." 

Lonesome and I did a little Indian wrestling on the 
couch. It's a good thing I have muscles from my tennis 
days. 

"Larry," I said, "the marriage department is one of the 
things I never fool with. Next thing you know we're all in 
one great mess. Bad for us, and not too healthy for 
Rhodes, de Palma and Coulihan, either." 

"Then you're comin' along?" 

Well, I suppose I was. If a girl is going in for careers 
she might as well make it a good one. It looked as if I 
had found a home with Lonesome Rhodes, Inc. 

"Thanks, Marshy," Lonesome said. "I wouldn't tell 
this to anybody else, but sometimes early in the morning I 
get kind of scared, Marsh. Sure, I wanna be a success. I 
got the gimmees just about as bad as anybody, but, shucks, 
I never figgered on anything like this. The number-one 
rating and the column and the comic strip and the Grand- 
paw Bascom dolls and Lonesome Rhodes drinks this and 
smokes that and everybody hangin' on my opinion of how 
t' bring back the good ol' hundred-cent dollar. It's enough 
t' scare a fella." 

Poor Lonesome. Of course these moments of self-doubt 
and humility were few and far between, early morning 
bottom-of-the-bottle lapses, but they were genuine enough 
while he was having them. Then they would lift like a 



26 



bad headache and he'd be his old braggy, egocentric, 
happy St. Bernard self again. Lonesome just had a severe 
case of American success, that's all. I doubt if there was 
ever anything like it in the history of the world. For one 
thing it takes a free (and free-wheeling) society for a 
success like his, and for another it takes a particular 
hopped-up kind of free society. Our kind, God bless it. 
This is a real screwball country, if you stop to think about 
it. Where else would the girls be tearing the clothes off 
skinny, pasty-faced boys with neurotic voices like Frank 
Sinatra and Johnny Ray? Or making Lonesome Rhodes, 
an obvious concoction if ever there was one, their favorite 
lover-boy and social philosopher? 

I tried to explain it to Lonesome, and to myself, that 
night. I came on with some of that stuff I had learned in 
school about the frontier. This country has a terrible 
hankering for its lost frontier, the way a mother forever 
mourns for a son run down by a truck when he was seven 
years old. The frontier song is ended, but oh how the 
melody lingers on. That's why we don't trust brain- 
trusters and professors. Lonesome said it perfectly on the 
air one day. "My Grandpaw Bascom never went to no 
school an' he was the smartest fella in the county. Every- 
thing I know I owe t' my Granddaddy Bascom who didn' 
know nuthin' either. But Grandpap Bascom, the ol' ras- 
cal, did say one thing . . ." And then Lonesome would 
sound off on some crackpot scheme and next thing I'd 
know there would be a bushel basket of letters to answer, 
saying as how it was a shame Lonesome wasn't in Wash- 
ington teaching those fancy-talkin' politicians a little com- 
mon sense. Once you get on that kind of a cracker-barrel 
American kick, you can only go up. Where it would all 
end I both dreaded and was fascinated to wonder. 

I told him how it would be with us if I went on with 
him to New York. Strictly career, strictly the girl assis- 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 27 

tant, associate producer, maid of all work or whatever I 
was. 

"I've gotta have you with me one way or another, 
Marshy," he said. "I know I'm great and America needs 
me, but without you I'd be back in Nowhereville where I 
came from. You're my . . ." 

"Anchor," I said. "Nursemaid. Ballast. The salt in your 
stew." 

"You can laugh," he said. "When you get way out in 
front like I am you need a friendly face. Without you, 
I'm up there all by my lonesome. I'm all alone." 

"You can't sing it on the air," I said, "until I clear the 
rights with Berlin." 

"Marshy, stay all night," he pleaded. "Twin beds. I 
promise I won't lay a finger on you. Brother 'n sister." 

"I wouldn't trust you," I told him, "if we were lying 
side by side in twin coffins." 

"I'm a baad boy," he said, with all his heavy charm. 

"You're Huck Finn with a psychoneurosis," I scolded. 
"God, if your public only knew what a slender reed they 
were leaning on." 

"That's our little secret, Marshy," he said, and gave it 
the deep-belly haw-haw. 

I finally got away and he said, "Good night, pardner," 
and went back to suck on his bottle. America's Uncle 
Lonesome, Big Brother to all the world. 

1 1 

We moved on to New York, into a humble seven-room 
suite in the Waldorf Towers. There was so much work to 
do that I had to hire an assistant, and pretty soon she had 
to have an assistant. Lonesome made the cover of Life, 
with a two-page spread on Riddle, Arkansas, and one of 
those Luce think-pieces on "The Meaning of Lonesome 
Rhodes." America, in this complex age of supergovern- 



28 



ment, overtaxation and atomic anxieties, was harking 
back to the simple wisdoms that had made her great, said 
Life. The mass swing to Lonesome was a sign of this 
harking. 

Lonesome was the indisputable king of television now 
and his daily column, written by two of his abler press 
agents, was syndicated in three hundred papers. There 
were Lonesome Rhodes hand puppets for the kiddies and 
the cigar-box guitar was rapidly becoming our national 
instrument. The Waldorf Towers layout made Bedlam 
seem like Arcadia. We had a staff of writers now to de- 
vise the folksy anecdotes that Lonesome delivered so spon- 
taneously. And there were TV and radio executives under 
foot all the time. And the sponsors' people, and the ad- 
vertising supernumeraries, and job seekers, and the theat- 
rical reporters, and of course the press agents. They formed 
their own not-so-little group of court favorites around 
Lonesome. They laughed at his witticisms and marveled 
at the way he could hold his liquor and wondered out loud 
if show business had ever had such a philanthropical, 
sagacious and all-around-helluva-fella. Lonesome's ego ex- 
panded like a giant melon. It became very difficult and 
rare for him to stop talking about Lonesome Rhodes. He 
would hold the press agents spellbound with tales of Lone- 
some Rhodes Foundation benevolences: how he helped a 
whole village of Maine fishermen starving from seasonal 
unemployment by setting up a cigar-box guitar factory — 
the fishermen were using their surplus gut and wire 
leaders for strings — and how he had saved the land of a 
sixty-year-old farmer with arthritis who was being dis- 
possessed. 

"Shucks, neighbors," he'd run off at the mouth, for- 
getting that these were just the hangers-on and not his 
great American public, "if us plain ordinary simple folks 
'd just help each other a little more — think about a good- 
neighbor policy at home instead of way down there in 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 29 

those banana republics that hate our guts, anyway — why 
heck we wouldn't need all this alphabet soup we got in 
Washington. As Grandpaw Bascom used t' put it, what 
we need is a little more good old-fashioned Christianity 
and a whole lot less of this new fangled bee-you-rock-racy." 
Lonesome never went to church himself — Sunday morn- 
ings were always spent in what he called Hangovertown 
— but he was a great one for telling everybody else to get 
up out of bed and ''show the Fellow Upstairs you haven't 
forgotten Him." It was as on the level as a nine-dollar 
bill, but at least half a dozen sects made him an Honorary 
Elder, and Interdenominational Faith Conferences were 
always presenting him with plaques and diplomas. We've 
got one whole closet full of the stuff. It was all done for a 
purpose, Lonesome's purpose, but even though behind the 
scenes I could see what it really was, I had to admit that 
he did a lot of good in his own egotistical way. The Lone- 
some Rhodes Summer Camp for underprivileged kids of 
mixed races and faiths became quite a thing. Lonesome 
Rhodes was far from an unmixed evil or an unmixed 
blessing. He had a kind of mixed-up evil genius for doing 
good, along with a warm-hearted gift for working evil. 
Even if he had been a lot more stable than he was, it 
would have been superhuman for him to keep his balance 
with Tommy de Palma and the rest of the Towers 
coterie constantly at his elbow inflating his already dan- 
gerously stretched self-esteem. Lonesome only had to men- 
tion something casually into the mike, or hold it in his 
hand as if by accident, and the product was made. One 
night he happened to mention that he liked to play 
acey-deucey to relax from the pressure of TV rehearsals, 
and presto, acey-deucey started replacing canasta as the 
latest civilian fad. He happened to toss off the phrase "as 
cocky as a teen-ager driving a Jaguar" and next morning 
there was a brand-new Mark 7 Jag at the door, free and 
clear. Every gadget company in the Republic had theii 



30 



scouts roaming the corridors of the Waldorf hoping to in- 
veigle Lonesome into giving them a little accidental or ac- 
cidentallike publicity on the air. Everything in the world 
he wanted in the way of wine, women, fast cars and fire- 
arms (he had become a big gun collector with a wall full 
of Kentucky rifles at $400 a throw) was ponied up for 
him by grateful or hopeful anglers. There were always 
half a dozen models loping around. They used to make 
me feel pretty dowdy, sometimes, those numbers. Our 
suite with money and wine and women and worried ex- 
ecutives and slave writers and stooges was just about as 
close as you can get in this country and this century to the 
ancient splendors of the Persian kings. I didn't know 
whether to laugh or cry every time I heard Lonesome 
(with his Cadillac and his Jaguar and his Waldorf Towers 
and his advertising company and his stocks and bonds and 
his complexes) telling his credulous listeners, "A-course I 
may not know what I'm a-talkin' about, I'm just one of 
these Arkansas farm boys with the dirt still on me. . . ." 
That wasn't dirt, that was money sticking to him. 

The only thing the press agents and the sponsors couldn't 
give him was me. Not that he needed me, God knows, 
with all those good-looking dolls floating around, but he 
had got it into his greedy little head that he did. Because 
I was the only one who didn't come crawling and scraping, 
I suppose. Because I was just as sassy with him as the 
first day he shuffled in way back there in Fox, Wyoming, 
with holes in his shoes. Because I was the only one who 
would tell him off when he got out of line. He had fallen 
into the habit of going around half-crocked all the time 
and after one performance when he had held forth on 
the homespun American virtues in a voice that was un- 
mistakably thick-tongued, I chewed him out for being a 
sloppy unprofessional, and threatened to walk off the job 
if he didn't pull himself together. We played one of 
those late, feverish, "I'd straighten up and fly right if only 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 31 

you married me" scenes. He said it looked like his agree- 
ment with the first Mrs. Rhodes was going through. She 
was down in the Virgin Islands having a divorce. 

I said maybe. I said wait and see. I said he was a hand- 
ful and there were troubles enough being his business 
associate without taking on the personal responsibility, 
too. He said he wanted a farm to get his sense of values 
back, to get away from the squirrel cage of television. He 
said he thought if he was married and settled down and 
had a farm, raised Black Angus and some kids, he wouldn't 
drink so much and be such a bastard. He said he knew I 
was ready to write him off as a slob but it was just this 
crazy pace and the fame coming down on him before he 
knew what hit him. He told me how he suffered from in- 
somnia and how he talked about himself too much be- 
cause deep down he knew he wasn't as great as Tommy de 
Palma and the rest of them talked him up. Nobody was. 
Deep down, he said, he was really a shy and sensitive guy. 
He said the brag act and the Great-I-Am bit was just a 
cover-up for the real Larry Rhodes. I was the only one 
he could admit that to, he said, and that's why he needed 
me and had to marry me. He'd take a high dive off the 
window ledge if I said no. Early hour hairdowns like 
this, I could almost be persuaded; there was that nice, 
warm St. Bernard side to him, even if it was a pretty 
neurotic St. Bernard. I told him I didn't warm to this 
high dive into no water id<?a. I didn't like the responsi- 
bility. I told him anybody who kept making those threats 
and meant them ought to have his brains examined. I 
even gave him the name of an analyst friend of mine. 

He walked me to the door and kissed me fondly. 
"Marshy," he said, "if you marry me I may even soften 
up in my old age and get kinda liberal." 

That had become a running gag with us. My common 
man with his two-hundred-dollar suits and his twelve- 
dollar neckties was about as liberal as William Howard 



32 



Taft. He was all for scrapping the UN and for going back 
to the open shop. I used to kid him that one of these 
days he'd run for President, Arkansas accent, cigar-box 
git-tar and all, on a platform of child labor and the 
sixteen-hour day. "Shucks, back in Riddle, my Uncle 
Bloomer went to work in the distillery when he was 
seven and it sure made a man of him in a hurry. By the 
time he was nine his daddy made him take the pledge. 
Yessir, nothin' like child labor, folks, t' build self-reliance." 
That's my boy. 

On Lonesome's next show he made a pitch about the 
Amurican home that was really a beaut. He sang "Home 
Sweet Home" and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. 
Nobody had done so much for the marriage business 
since Edward VIII tossed a kingdom away for "the woman 
I love." Lonesome even had Lonesome weeping. Of course 
if anyone had analyzed the tears he would have found 
them high in alcohol content. Still, Lonesome could cry 
with the best of them. He was one of those magnificent 
fakes who could overwhelm himself with his own sin- 
cerity. 

The night of this telecast he flew out to Arkansas to see 
a football game and to judge the State drum-majorette con- 
test. I should have mentioned — and you might have 
guessed — that among Lonesome's cultural hobbies was a 
passionate enthusiasm for drum-majoring and drum- 
majoretting. He was rather an accomplished amateur 
baton twirler himself and he had announced that he would 
bring the lucky winner back to appear on his program 
with him. 

Monday morning I went out to meet the incoming 
plane, but Lonesome wasn't on it. I tried to phone him 
at his Little Rock hotel, but he had checked out. And of 
course he was due for a program rehearsal at three. He 
never showed. I could have killed him. I had to scurry 
around and hurrv ud a substitute. About fifteen minutes 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 33 

before we went on I got a wire from Lonesome. He was 
in Juarez, Mexico. He said Mary-Mae Fleckum, the win- 
ning clrum-majorette, had just done him the honor of 
becoming Mrs. Rhodes. He added something about 
holding the fort. 

Three days later he planed in with his Mary-Mae. She 
was a trim little corn-fed blonde with a provocative little 
can, a syrupy purr and a way of being dumb that seemed 
almost calculated, it was so extreme. Mary-Mae became 
part of the folk program. She'd appear in tight-fitting 
rompers, doing her cakewalk and throwing her bottom 
and her baton around. She could also yodel. Lonesome 
had really found himself a hunk of talent in this Fleckum 
kid. He drooled over her on and off the program. He 
called her his little Arkansas sweet potato. 

I went in and said it was about time I took a vacation 
and at the end of my vacation I thought I would resign. 
There were any number of good TV jobs open for me 
now, less money but also less Lonesome Rhodes. 

Lonesome took me into his private study, which looked 
like a medium-sized arsenal, and said he had wanted to 
have a heart-to-heart talk ever since he got back. I said, 
"Let's make it a heart talk because I can just barely make 
out one heart between the two of us." 

"Now Marshy, now Marshy honey," he kept saying. 
He said it had been on his conscience to explain how he 
happened to marry Mary-Mae instead of me. He was 
afraid to marry me, he said. Last week he had been 
afraid not to, I reminded him. They were both true, he 
said, but I overawed him. I knew more than he did and 
I was terribly critical. I didn't really approve of him. I 
made him feel small. Mary-Mae was just the opposite. 
Mary-Mae adored and worshipped him. For Mary-Mae 
being the wife of Lonesome Rhodes and living in this 
Waldorf penthouse with him was a Cinderella dream 
come true. I said, "Mary-Mae is your public in one cute 



34 



little package. This is the logical culmination of the 
great twentieth-century love affair between Lonesome 
Rhodes and his mass audience." 

"She's a little honey," Lonesome said. 

"Sweet potatoes and honey," I said. "That's a mighty 
rich diet." 

"I wish you weren't so bitter," Lonesome said. "You're 
a darned good-looking girl and you can be a lot of fun 
but you've got a chip on your shoulder." 

"I didn't come in here to discuss my personality," I 
said. "That's my problem. I came to tell you good-bye 
and I want out." 

"You can have the vacation," he said, "but then you've 
got to come back and work with me on a regular busi- 
ness basis. This thing is too big for you to quit. Lone- 
some Rhodes, Inc., is good for over a million a year now. 
Not to mention Rhodes, de Palma and Coulihan." 

"It can be just Rhodes and de Palma," I said. "You 
two barefoot boys can buy me out. I think I'll take a job 
with 'Author Meets the Critics'/' 

"Books," he said. Lonesome Rhodes the oracle felt he 
was well read when he got through the News and Mir- 
ror. "Who reads books?" 

"Just a few of us," I said. "Just a few hundred thou- 
sand die-hards." 

"Have fun, Marshy," Lonesome said. "Blow your stack 
and come on back. But don't get stuck on anybody or I'll 
get jealous." 

Just then Mary-Mae burst in. She did a kind of jazzy 
military strut even when she wasn't on. "Loancie," she 
purred, snaking her firm golden arms around him, "I 
want you to take Mary-Mae down to Schrafft's for a cherry 
ice-cream soda with oodles of whipped-cream on top." 

Lonesome patted her with distracted appreciation. 
"Tell Tommy to have them send you one up here right 
away, sweetie. Now beat it, sugar, this is business." 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 35 

"I'm leaving anyway," I said. "I'm off for the Islands. 
So why don't you do the big thing and take her to 
Schrafft's? She probably never has had a chance to see 
life as it is lived dangerously and fatteningly on Fifth 
Avenue." 

Mary- Mae giggled. "I can never get enough cherry ice- 
cream sodas." 

"That's how Lonesome is about drum-majorettes," I 
said, wishing I could have resisted being a cat. "The two 
of you should be very happy." 

"Thank you very much I'm sure," I heard Mrs. Rhodes 
say as I went out the door with my very best posture. 

I went down to Cuba, to a nice informal Cuban hotel 
on the beach at Veradero. It was pleasure to be away 
from that madhouse in the Waldorf Towers and to be rid 
of Lonesome Rhodes. I even met a man who interested 
me for the first time in years. He was one of the editors 
of the New York Times Magazine and he was well read 
and I liked his mind and at the same time he could be 
fun. We both liked the same kind of vacation, going bare- 
foot and wearing any old thing and we went fishing to- 
gether and had good talks on the beach and in the 
thatch-roof bars. I wondered if I had had to get Lone- 
some out of my life before anything could happen to me 
with any other man. I wondered if an analyst would have 
told me that Lonesome had been a kind of father figure 
in my life. I was half in love with him and half driven to 
get rid of him. And kick him in the teeth for farewell. 
Anyway now that Lonesome wasn't around like a giant 
sponge to suck me up into his life along with all the oth- 
ers, I was getting along nicely. 

When we went up to Havana to make the rounds one 
evening I ran across a copy of Time and that's how I saw 
the latest development on Lonesome. He had delivered 
one of his Open Letters To VIP's — this one to Churchill, 
telling him Great Britain should get off our gravy train 



36 



and warning him that Lonesome was ready to give up on 
the British and advise the American people to close them 
out just as we would any other bankrupt outfit. America 
would be better off, he had told his thirty million view- 
ers and listeners, when she stood alone, "just as we stood 
in the days of the war against England when we first 
gained our independence." If I had been around I never 
would have let that go through. I had been doing a fair 
job of x-ing out the most extreme of Lonesome's antedi- 
luvian views. And in the second place I could have told 
him that we weren't exactly alone in 1776. There was 
Lafayette, and the Polish boys Pulaski and Kosciusko. 
Not to mention France and Spain and half of Europe 
lined up against the Redcoats all over the world. It was 
amazing and frightening how Lonesome, this cigar-box 
gondolier, would sound off on global issues without the 
vaguest knowledge of factual or historical background. A 
bold know-nothing who, in the courage of his ignorance, 
hadn't the slightest hesitation in getting up and telling 
his "neighbors" — which was just everybody in America — 
how to run their own and the nation's business. 

But what was startling about this down-with-England 
pitch was the official response it drew. A Labor leader in 
the British Parliament got up and demanded that Church- 
ill ask Lonesome to apologize for his intemperate re- 
marks. There was a full debate on the floor which aired 
Labor and Conservative views on American relations. 
Churchill said it was preposterous for the English even to 
consider interfering with American freedom of speech, al- 
though naturally he deplored Mr. Lonesome Rhodes' 
rather uncharitable view of his British cousins. "Appar- 
ently he thinks us of an even lower order than his rela- 
tions in Riddle," said the Prime Minister, thereby 
spreading the fame of Grandpaw Bascom and Cousin 
Abernathy to the far side of the Atlantic. New York pa- 
pers had it on the'ir front pages for nearly a week. Lone- 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 37 

some had become the darling of the Chicago Trib, the 
New York Journal and the Daily News while the Times 
and the New York Trib were writing polite editorials 
suggesting that Lonesome go home to Riddle for a while 
and rest up from international affairs. 

One night, it must have been around three in the 
morning, I was enjoying one of those deep Caribbean 
sleeps, with the fresh warm air blowing in from the sea, 
when I heard someone knocking on my door. "Telayphone, 
pleece, long deestance." I jumped up and threw a robe 
around me and hurried down to the desk phone in the 
lobby. I was scared to death it was my old man. He 
hadn't been very well. But it wasn't my father. It was 
Lonesome Rhodes. "Lonesome, how did you know 
where I was staying?" That was easy, he had seen the 
card I had sent my assistant from Veradero and he had 
simply gone down the list of hotels. "Marshy," he said, 
"how soon can you get back to New York? You've gotta 
come back right away." 

"Hah," I said, "or should I say haw?" 

"No kiddin', I need ya bad, Marshy girl, I need ya real 
bad." 

"What's happened, England declare war on you?" 

"Those limey bastards. The hell with them. You 
shoulda heard me tonight — I really gave Churchill a piece 
of my mind. If there's any war declarin' t' do, I'm the 
one who's gonna do it. But I'll come to that in a minute. 
That's not why I need ya, Marshy. I need ya to live with 
me." 

"You and I and the drum-majorette — that will be cozy." 

"Mary-Mae, she's no good, Marshy. She's nuthin' but a 
good-for-nuthin' little tramp, Marshy. I just kicked her 
little ass right the hell out of here. The hell with her. It 
was you I wanted all the time, Marshy. I can't live with- 
out you." 

"Then I'm afraid your days are numbered, Larry," I said. 



38 



"Please, Marshmallow. I'm on my knees. Right here 
in front of the telephone. I'm on my knees." 

"If you had some white gloves you could sing 
'Mammy,' " I said. 

"There's a window right behind me. If you don't prom- 
ise you'll come back on the next plane I'll jump out the 
window tonight." 

"Oh, jump," I said. 

"You don't believe me," he said. "You think I haven't 
got the guts. Well I've got the window open right now, 
what do you think of that? And I swear to God I am 
gonna use it if you don't promise to catch the next plane 
back." 

"Lonesome," I told him, "listen. I found someone 
down here. The first one who's made sense to me since I 
got out of school. It's serious. I have a feeling it's going 
to work." 

"Oh Jesus," Lonesome was blubbering, "what've I done 
that everybody should be against me? I won't be able to 
live if some bastard takes you away from me. I'll jump. 
I'll jump. I wanna die." 

I thought of all the three a.m. alarms I had answered. 
I thought, This is a poker game and all the money is 
in the pot now and now is the time to call him. There 
was a terrible curiosity in me to see what would happen 
if I didn't come running. If this time I stood my own 
ground. I had made it too easy for him. He was an ex- 
treme personality from his shoelaces to the careless lock 
of hair over his forehead, and I had cushioned it for him 
all the way. I had toned down the views that would have 
made him sound like a sweet-talking Father Coughlin, 
and I had provided a line of emotional continuity be- 
tween ex-wives and models and new wives and assorted 
tramps. I had been home plate, or rather the locker room 
where you ease up after the game, win or lose. And I 
had been the little cog of efficiency without which the 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 39 

great streamlined express breaks down. Lonesome Rhodes 
had been my career, my Frankenstein, my crime. 

"So jump, jump," I said. "Get out of my life. Get out 
of everybody's life." 

"Okey-doke," he shouted. "If you tell me to do it, I'll do 
it. It'll be your fault." 

"Jump, jump, jump," I couldn't stop saying, in a 
broken rage. I would never forgive him if he did, and of 
course I could never forgive him if he didn't. 

"All right," he said. "All right. You told me, Marshy. 
Never forget you were the one who told me. I can't de- 
cide whether to do it tonight or wait until after my 
broadcast tomorrow. I have a very important broadcast 
tomorrow. I am going to declare war." 

"Just you? Without even bothering to inform Con- 
gress?" 

"The people will inform Congress," he explained. "I've 
had enough of these Russkies and Chinks and for- 
eigners pushin' us around. I say it's better to get it over 
with now while we're strong than wait for decay to set 
in. Like my Cousin Abernathy used t' say . . ." 

"Please," I said, "on the great American public you get 
away with it, but don't perpetrate that fake cousin on 
me." 

He believed he had a Cousin Abernathy, that was the 
frightening part. And now he believed he could declare 
war, that was even more frightening. The screw that al- 
ways had been loose in him had worked itself free and 
the motor was coming apart. He was saying, "If I tell the 
people to declare war they will flood the White House 
and their congressmen with letters and telegrams. The 
GI's will insist on going into action. Volunteer militias 
will rise in every town and hamlet in America. The peo- 
ple listen to Lonesome Rhodes. The people act with 
Lonesome Rhodes." 

It frightened me. Maybe he was only bluffing. Trying 



40 



to get a rise out of me. He knew how I felt about irre- 
sponsible amateurs with mass followings sounding off on 
international crises. He knew where I stood on these or- 
acles who flunk the most elementary course in human 
relations but never hesitate to tell us how we could have 
saved those three hundred million Chinese from Com- 
munism or how to turn back the tides of Africa. So maybe 
this idea of declaring war was his idea of how to have fun 
with Marshy. But what if it was what he said it was? He 
had been able to bring the British to a boil. What was to 
stop him from bringing the whole world to the pop- 
ping point? "In the Event of an Enemy Attack" — I saw 
those ominous billboards showing up among soft-drink 
and cigarette ads along American highways. I saw the fa- 
tal mushroom of atomic ruin rising above gutted, face- 
less cities. I saw Lonesome Rhodes as a gum-chewing 
Nero strumming his cigar-box git-tax and easing into the 
commercials while civilization burned. 

"All right," I said. "Don't jump. I'll come. On one 
condition. That you hold off your war until I get there." 

"Don't think you can talk me out of it, Marshy baby," 
he said. "I'm fed up. I'm loaded for bear." 

"You're loaded, there's not much doubt about that," I 
said. "Now go to bed. Cool off. Sleep on the war." 

"I'm sick 'n tired o' being stalled," he said. "The night 
before last I tried to get Joe Stalin on the phone. I 
figgered if Joe and I could get out behind the old wood- 
shed together we might be able to work something out. 
But the big bum thinks he's too high 'n mighty to talk 
to me. Okay, sez I, I got an army of fifty million view- 
ers back o' me, ready to march when I blow the whistle. 
I'll settle his hash." 

"Take a hot bath," I said. "And then two empirin and 
a phenobarbital. And stay in bed and rest until I get in." 

I flew in early the next afternoon and went right to the 
Waldorf. Lonesome was in a terrible state. He hadn't 
shaved in three or four days and there was so much Irish 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 41 

whiskey in him that he smelled like a branch of Jame- 
son's. Whiskey had stained his bathrobe and empty bot- 
tles made a slum of his penthouse suite. 

"Marshy honey, bless you, baby," he said when I came 
in. "Stay here and marry me and you'll be the first lady 
of America. Lonesome Rhodes Clubs all over the coun- 
try want me to run for President. But I'm not sure I 
want it. I can't do everything myself." 

"Please," I said. "Just no war today. I'm simply not 
ready for war today." 

"Marshy, honey, for you I'll do anything. I should have 
had my head examined for marrying that little baton- 
twirler from North Little Rock. The kid sure could twirl, 
though. One in each hand and play the harmonica at the 
same time. She could even do it on her toes. But I need 
someone worthy of me. Someone with a brain who I c'n 
talk to." He reached for the bottle and I could see how 
his hand was trembling. "Damn it, nobody hates war 
more'n I do. But they got me mad now. Why do I have 
to have all the responsibility? But if Washington is too 
lily-livered to act . . ." 

He gulped the whiskey and staggered to his desk, push- 
ing a jumble of papers, clippings and letters aside to find 
something he was looking for. 

"I woulda jumped," he said. "You didn' believe me. 
Here — here's the note I wrote to leave behind." He 
picked it up and read it to me in a hoarse, maudlin 
voice. It told of his grief for the fine American boys hav- 
ing to sacrifice themselves in foreign lands. He said he 
was sorrowing for all his American neighbors threatened 
with extinction in another terrible war. "For me this 
whole great country of ours is just Riddle, Arkansas, mul- 
tiplied," he wound it up. "Every one of you is my Cousin 
Abernathy, my Aunt Lucybelle, my Grandpaw Bascom. 
God bless you and keep you all, my beloved kinfolk and 
neighbors." 

"But you told me you were going out the window for 



42 



my sake," I protested. "Why do you drag in this other 
routine?" 

He gave me one of those slow, inebriated winks. "My 
public," he said. "This is high-level BK stuff. The high- 
est possible level. They gotta believe I love 'em to the 
end. Get it?" 

"Yes," I said. "I think I get it." 

"Smart girl," he said. "Why don't we have one more 
drink and then you crawl into the sack with me? The 
hell with everybody." 

"That's not what I came back for," I said. 

"Hell with everybody," he shouted. "Hell with you too 
if you don't be a good little girl and play house with 
Poppa." 

His face was flushed and his eyes were crazy. 

I said, "Larry, get into bed and I'll get you some sleep- 
ing pills. And for God's sake, stop drinking. I'll have 
the doctor come and give you a shot if you won't stop." 

"Gotta put on a show at nine o'clock," he said. "Gotta 
declare war. War!" he shouted. "This means war!" 

"Shhhh," I said, "you've got to lie down. You've got to 
be quiet for a while. I'll get Bert Wheeler or someone to 
take your place tonight. You need some sleep. Rest. 
Peace. Shhhhh." 

He reached out his arm for me and almost lost his bal- 
ance. I put my hand on his elbow to steady him. He 
grabbed me and we tottered together. He tried to force 
his mouth against mine. "Larry, for God's sake, let me 
go," I said. I broke away and ran down the hall. Lone- 
some came running heavily after me. "Hey Marshy, quit 
runnin'. Let's roll in the hay together." His big voice was 
right behind me. I had reached the marble steps leading 
down to the entrance hallway of the duplex suite. I ran 
down two steps at a time. 

"Hey Marshy, let's . . ." 

Then an ugly sound of hopeless protest came out of him. 
The staggering bulk of him had lost its balance on the 



YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER 43 

top step and was floundering, hurling, thudding down. I 
could feel the back of his head striking the marble ledge 
of each step as he lurched to the bottom landing. 

He made a low, broken moan and lay still. I was afraid 
to move him. I ran to the phone and called Tommy de 
Palma. When I told him what had happened, Tommy 
took the name of our Lord in vain, but quite solemnly. 
Then he said, "Listen, Marcia. You get the hell out of 
there. I'll be right over and take care of everything. And 
never tell anybody — I mean anybody — how it happened." 

A few hours later it was all over for Lonesome 
Rhodes, at least the corporeal part. A compound fracture 
of the skull had removed his name from the Nielsen rat- 
ings. He had become a living legend even before he lost 
his balance on that top step and now Tommy de Palma 
did a beautiful job of rounding out the myth. On all the 
front pages it said that Lonesome's death was due to col- 
lapsing on the stairs from overwork on his way to deliver 
a message of tremendous importance to his vast radio-TV 
audience. "We begged him to slow down, but as long as 
his great heart kept pumping he had to keep pitching for 
his fellow-Americans," Tommy was quoted. Tommy had 
found the suicide note and without mentioning the win- 
dow business he had used the sure-fire stuff about grieving 
and sorrowing for the fine American boys and his fellow 
countrymen. "I was with him at the end and I will re- 
member his last words as long as I live," Tommy said. I'll 
remember those words too, but not quite the way Tommy 
reported them. He used that "great country of ours is just 
Riddle multiplied" line and wound up with the "bless 
you and keep you, my beloved kinfolk and neighbors" bit. 

Tommy announced that the Lonesome Rhodes Founda- 
tion would continue as a lasting memorial to this simple 
American. Immediately thousands of dollars poured in 
from all over the country to keep up the good works. 
Plans were drawn up for a monument to Lonesome in 
Riddle with his famous last words inscribed at the base of 



44 



a vast likeness in bronze. Well, Tommy can have his last 
words. They're a little more fit for public examination 
than what the man really said when he was chasing me 
down those steps. 

The funeral was the most impressive thing of its kind I 
have ever seen. Traffic was suspended on Fifth Avenue 
and the great thoroughfare was jammed for twenty blocks. 
Half a million people tried to pass the bier. Women grew 
hysterical and fainted. The Mayor was there, and Gen- 
eral MacArthur, and a Marine Honor Guard and Ike 
sent personal condolences. The entire population of 
Riddle, Arkansas, was flown in by the publicity de- 
partment of our TV network. A cowhand from Arkansas 
sang, "Oh Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie." A bishop 
spoke on the spiritual essence in Lonesome Rhodes. "He 
was a man of the people," said the bishop, "because he 
was, in the simplest and deepest and best sense, a man of 
God." 

It was a shame Lonesome Rhodes couldn't have been 
there. He would have loved it. It was his kind of stuff, 
exactly as if it had been written for him and directed by 
him. He was an influence, there is no doubt of that. Look 
at the half-dozen minor imitators already trying to fill his 
boots. The film companies have started bidding for the 
movie rights. Already columnists are speculating as to who 
could play it. John Wayne? Will Rogers, Jr.? Paul Doug- 
las? The Lonesome Rhodes Foundation is to have a con- 
siderable share of the profits. As Tommy de Palma would 
say, "Dat's how legends are born." 

After the funeral, I walked around the corner to a bar 
and went in to think it over. While I had never given my- 
self to Lonesome Rhodes, I had belonged to him. I had 
had a hand in shaping that legend. How could I disown it 
now without having to answer for myself? 



A SHORT DIGEST OF A 
LONG NOVEL 



Her legs were shapely and firm and when she crossed 
them and smiled with the self-assurance that always de- 
lighted him, he thought she was the only person he knew 
in the world who was unblemished. Not lifelike but an 
improvement on life, as a work of art, her delicate fea- 
tures were chiseled from a solid block. The wood- 
sculpture image came easy to him because her particular 
shade of blonde always suggested maple polished to a 
golden grain. As it had been from the moment he stood 
in awe and amazement in front of the glass window where 
she was first exhibited, the sight of her made him philo- 
sophical. Some of us appear in beautiful colors, too, or 
with beautiful grains, but we develop imperfections. In- 
spect us very closely and you find we're damaged by the 
elements. Sometimes we're only nicked with cynicism. 



46 

Sometimes we're cracked with disillusionment. Or we're 
split with fear. 

When she began to speak, he leaned forward, eager for 
the words that were like good music, profundity expressed 
in terms that pleased the ear while challenging the mind. 

"Everybody likes me," she said. "Absolutely everybody." 

It was not that she was conceited. It was simply that 
she was only three. No one had ever taken her with 
sweet and whispered promises that turned into morning- 
after lies, ugly and cold as unwashed dishes from last 
night's dinner lying in the sink. She had never heard a 
dictator rock her country to sleep with peaceful lullabies 
one day and rock it with bombs the next. She was unde- 
ceived. Her father ran his hands reverently through her 
soft yellow hair. She is virgin, he thought, for this is the 
true virginity, that brief moment in the time of your life 
before your mind or your body has been defiled by acts 
of treachery. 

It was just before Christmas and she was sitting on her 
little chair, her lips pressed together in concentration, 
writing a last-minute letter to Santa Glaus. The words 
were written in some language of her own invention but 
she obligingly translated as she went along. 

Dear Santa, I am a very good girl and everybody likes me. So 
please don't forget to bring me a set of dishes, a doll that goes 
to sleep and wakes up again, and a washing machine. I need 
the washing machine because Raggedy Ann's dress is so dirty. 

After she had finished her letter, folded it, and asked 
him to address it, he tossed her up in the air, caught her 
and tossed her again, to hear her giggle. "Higher, Daddy, 
higher," she instructed. His mind embraced her sentimen- 
tally: She is a virgin island in a lewd world. She is a 
winged seed of innocence blown through the wasteland. 



A SHORT DIGEST 47 

If only she could root somewhere. If only she could grow 
like this. 

"Let me down, Daddy," she said when she decided that 
she had indulged him long enough, "I have to mail my 
letter to Santa." 

"But didn't you see him this afternoon?" he asked. 
"Didn't you ask for everything you wanted? Mommy said 
she took you up to meet him and you sat on his lap." 

"I just wanted to remind him," she said. "There were 
so many other children." 

He fought down the impulse to laugh, because she was 
not something to laugh at. And he was obsessed with the 
idea that to hurt her feelings with laughter was to nick 
her, to blemish the perfection. 

"Daddy can't catch me-ee," she sang out, and the old 
chase was on, following the pattern that had become so 
familiar to them, the same wild shrieks and the same 
scream of pretended anguish at the inevitable result. Two 
laps around the dining-room table was the established 
course before he caught her in the kitchen. He swung her 
up from the floor and set her down on the kitchen table. 
She stood on the edge, poised confidently for another of 
their games. But this was no panting, giggling game like 
tag or hide-and-seek. This game was ceremonial. The 
table was several feet higher than she was. "Jump, jump, 
and Daddy will catch you," he would challenge. They 
would count together, one, two and on three she would 
leap out into the air. He would not even hold out his 
arms to her until the last possible moment. But he would 
always catch her. They had played the game for more 
than a year and the experience never failed to exhilarate 
them. You see, I am always here to catch you when you 
are falling, it said to them, and each time she jumped, her 
confidence increased and their bond deepened. 

They were going through the ceremony when the woman 



48 



next door came in with her five-year-old son, Billy. "Hello, 
Mr. Steevers," she said. "Would you mind if I left Bill 
with you for an hour while I go do my marketing?" 

"No, of course not, glad to have him." he said and he 
mussed Billy's hair playfully. "How's the boy, Billy?" 

But his heart wasn't in it. This was his only afternoon 
of the week with her and he resented the intrusion. And 
then too, he was convinced that Billy was going to grow 
up into the type of man for whom he had a particular 
resentment. A sturdy, good-looking boy, big for his age, 
aggressively unchildlike, a malicious, arrogant, insensitive 
extrovert. I can just see him drunk and red-faced and 
pulling up girls' dresses at Legion Conventions, Mr. 
Steevers would think. And the worst of it was, his daugh- 
ter seemed blind to Billy's faults. The moment she saw 
him she forgot about their game. 

"Hello, Billy-Boy," she called and ran over to hug him. 

"I want a cookie," said Billy. 

"Oh, yes, a cookie; some animal crackers, Daddy." 

She had her hostess face on and as he went into the 
pantry, he could hear the treble of her musical laughter 
against the premature baritone of Billy's guffaws. 

He swung open the pantry door with the animal crackers 
in his hand just in time to see it. She was poised on the 
edge of the table. Billy was standing below her, as he had 
seen her father do. "Jump and I'll catch you," he was 
saying. 

Smiling, confident and unblemished, she jumped. But 
no hands reached out to break her flight. With a cynical 
grin on his face, Billy stepped back and watched her fall. 

Watching from the doorway, her father felt the horror 
that possessed him the ti'me he saw a parachutist smashed 
like a bug on a windshield when his chute failed to open. 
She was lying there, crying, not so much in pain as in dis- 
illusionment. He ran forward to pick her up and he would 



A SHORT DIGEST 49 

never forget the expression on her face, the new ex- 
pression, unchildlike, unvirginal, embittered. 

"I hate you, I hate you," she was screaming at Billy 
through hysterical sobs. 

Well, now she knows, thought her father, the facts of 
life. Now she's one of us. Now she knows treachery and fear. 
Now she must learn to replace innocence with courage. 

She was still bawling. He knew these tears were as 
natural and as necessary as those she shed at birth, but 
that could not overcome entirely the heavy sadness that 
enveloped him. Finally, when he spoke, he said, a little 
more harshly than he had intended, "Now, now, stop 
crying. Stand up and act like a big girl. A little fall like 
that can't hurt you." 



50 



TABLE AT CIRO'S 



At half-past five Ciro's looks like a woman sitting before 
her dressing table just beginning to make up for the eve- 
ning. The waiters are setting up the tables for the dinner 
trade, the cigarette and hat-check girls are changing from 
slacks to the abbreviated can-can costumes which are their 
work clothes, and an undiscovered Rosemary Clooney 
making her debut tonight is rehearsing. Don't let the stars 
get in your eyes . . . 

A telephone rings and the operator, who is suffering from 
delusions of looking like Ava Gardner, answers, "Ci-ro's. 
A table for Mr. Nathan? For six. His usual table?" 
This was not what she had come to Hollywood for, to 
take reservations over the telephone, but even the small 
part she played in A. D. Nathan's plans for the evening 
brought her a little closer to the Hollywood that was like 
a mirage, always in sight but never within reach. For, like 



A TABLE AT CIRO's 51 

everyone else in Hollywood, the telephone operator at 
Giro's had a dream. Once upon a time, ran this one, 
there was a Famous Movie Producer (called Goldwyn, 
Zanuck or A. D. Nathan) and one evening this FMP was 
in Ciro's placing a million-dollar telephone call when he 
happened to catch a glimpse of her at the switchboard. 
"Young lady," he would say, "you are wasting your time 
at that switchboard. You may not realize it, but you are 
Naomi in my forthcoming farm epic, Sow the Wild Oat!" 

Reluctantly the operator plugged out her dream and 
sent word of Nathan's reservation to Andre. Andre be- 
longed to that great International Race, head waiters, 
whose flag is an unreadable menu and whose language is 
French with an accent. Head waiters are diplomats who 
happened to be born with silver spoons in their hands 
instead of their mouths. Andre would have been a typical 
head waiter. But he had been in Hollywood too long. 
Which meant that no matter how good a head waiter he 
was, he was no longer satisfied to be one. Andre wanted 
to be a screen writer. In fact, after working only three 
years, Andre had managed to finish a screenplay, entitled, 
surprisingly enough, Confessions of a Hollywood Waiter. 
He had written it all by himself, in English. 

With casual deliberateness (hadn't Jimmy Starr called 
him the poor man's Adolphe Menjou?) Andre picked out 
a table one row removed from the dance floor for Mr. 
Nathan. The waiter, whose ringside table was A. D. Na- 
than's "usual," raised a protest not entirely motivated by 
sentiment. In Waiter's Local 67, A. D. Nathan's fame was 
based not so much on his pictures as on his tips. "Mr. 
Nathan will have to be satisfied with this table," Andre 
explained. "All the ringside tables are already reserved." 

Andre had to smile at his own cleverness. A. D. Nathan 
did not know it yet, but from the beginning Andre had 
had him in mind as the producer of his scenario. A. D. 
seemed the logical contact because he remembered Andre 



52 



as an ordinary waiter in Henry's back in the days before 
pictures could talk. But Andre knew he needed something 
stronger than nostalgia to bring himself to A.D.'s atten- 
tion. Every Saturday night Nathan presided at the same 
table overlooking the floor. Tonight Andre would make 
him take a back seat. Nathan would threaten and grum- 
ble and Andre would flash his suave head-waiter smile 
and be so sorry M'sieur Nathan, if there were only some- 
thing I could do . . . Then, at the opportune moment, 
just as the floor show was about to begin, Andre would dis- 
cover that something could be done. And when Nathan 
would try to thank Andre with a crisp green bill for giv- 
ing him the table Andre had been saving for him all 
evening, Andre's voice would take on an injured tone. 
Merci beaucoup, M'sieur Nathan, thank you just the same, 
but Andre is glad to do a favor for an old friend. 

Andre thought of the scene in terms of a scenario. 
That was the dialogue, just roughed in, of course. Then 
the business of Nathan insisting on rewarding Andre for 
his efforts. And a close-up of Andre, shyly dropping his 
eyes as he tells M'sieur Nathan that if he really wants to 
reward Andre he could read Confessions of a Hollywood 
Waiter by Andre de Selco. 

So that was Andre's dream and he dreamt it all the 
while he was fussing over last-minute details like a nerv- 
ous hostess getting ready for a big party. 

By the time Nathan's party arrived, the big room with 
the cyclamen drapes and pale-green walls of tufted satin 
was full of laughter, music, shop talk and an inner-circle 
intimacy that hung over the place like the smoke that 
rose from lipsticked cigarettes and expensive cigars. Ev- 
eryone turned to stare at the newcomers, for Hollywood 
celebrities have a way of gaping at each other with the 
same wide-eyed curiosity as their supposedly less sophis- 
ticated brothers waiting for autographs outside. 

Nathan entered with assurance, conscious of the way 



53 



"There's A. D." was breathed through the room. His fig- 
ure was slight but imposing, for he carried himself with 
the air of a man who was used to commanding authority. 
There was something ghostly about him, with his white 
hair and pale, clean, faintly pink skin, but his eyes were 
intensely alive, dark eyes that never softened, even when 
he smiled. As he followed Andre toward the dance floor, 
actors, agents, directors and fellow-producers were anx- 
ious to catch his eye. It was "Hello, A. D. How are you 
tonight, A. D.?," and he would acknowledge them with a 
word or a nod, knowing how to strike just the right bal- 
ance between dignity and cordiality. 

At his side was his wife, a tall brunette with sculpture- 
perfect features, hardened by a willful disposition. Some 
still remembered her as Lita Lawlor, who seemed on the 
verge of stardom not so many years ago. But she had 
sacrificed her screen career for love, or so the fan mag- 
azines had put it, though gossippers would have you be- 
lieve that Lita was just swapping one career for another 
that promised somewhat more permanent security. 

Accompanying the Nathans were a plain, middle-aged 
couple whom no one in Ciro's could identify, an undis- 
covered girl of seventeen who was beautiful in an undis- 
tinguished way, and Bruce Spencer, a young man whom 
Nathan was grooming as the next Robert Taylor. And 
grooming was just the word, for this male ingenue 
pranced and tossed his curly black mane like a horse on 
exhibition. 

Andre led the party to the inferior table he had picked 
out for them. 

"Wait a minute. Andre, this isn't my table," Nathan 
protested. 

He frowned at Andre's silky explanations. He was in 
no mood to be crossed this evening. It seemed as if ev- 
erything was out of sync today. First his three-thousand- 
dollar-a-week writer had turned in a dime-a-dozen script. 



54 



Then he had decided that what he needed was an eve- 
ning alone with something young and new like this Jenny 
Robbins, and instead here he was with his wife, that 
young ham of hers, and those Carterets he'd been ducking 
for months. And to top everything, there was that business 
in New York. 

Impatiently Nathan beckoned the waiter. "A magnum 
of Cordon Rouge, 1935." 

1935, Nathan thought. That was the year he almost 
lost his job. It was a funny thing. All these people hoping 
to be tossed a bone never thought of A. D. Nathan as a 
man with a job to hold. But that year, when the panic 
struck and the banks moved in, he had had to think fast 
to hold onto that big office and that long title. He won- 
dered what would have become of him if he had lost 
out. He thought of some of the magic names of the past, 
like Colonel Selig and J. C. Blackburn, who could walk 
into Ciro's now without causing a head to turn. And he 
thought how frightening it would be to enter Ciro's 
without the salaaming reception he always complained 
about but would have felt lost without. 

But he mustn't worry. His psychiatrist had told him 
not to worry. He looked across at Jenny with that in- 
credibly young face, so pretty and soft, like a marmalade 
kitten, he thought. A little wearily, he raised his glass to 
her. He wondered what she was like, what she was think- 
ing, whether she would. Then he looked at Mimi Carteret. 
How old she and Lew had become. He could remember 
when they were the regulars at the Embassy Club and the 
Coconut Grove. Now their eyes were shining like tourists' 
because it had been such a long time since their last 
evening in Ciro's. 

"Is the wine all right, Lew?" Nathan asked. 

Lew Carteret looked up, his face flushed. "All right! I 
haven't had wine like this . . ." He paused to think. "In 
a long time," he said. 



A TABLE AT CIRO's 55 

There was a silence, and Nathan felt embarrassed for 
him. He was glad when Mimi broke in with the anecdote 
about the time during Prohibition when they were leav- 
ing for Europe with their Western star, Tex Bradley, and 
Tex insisted on bringing his own Scotch along because 
he was afraid to trust those foreign bootleggers. 

Nathan was only half-listening, though he joined in the 
laughter. When is Carteret going to put the bite on me 
for that job he wants?, he was thinking. And what will I 
have to give the little marmalade kitten? And though he 
could not divine Andre's plans, or guess how he figured 
in the dreams of the telephone operator who looked like 
Ava Gardner, he could not help feeling that Ciro's was a 
solar system in which he was the sun and around which 
all these satellites revolved. 

"Andre," he beckoned, "will you please tell the opera- 
tor I'm expecting a very important long-distance call?" An 
empty feeling of excitement rose inside him, but he 
fought it down. The dancers were swaying to a tango. 
Nathan saw Spencer and Lita, whirling like professionals, 
conscious of how well they looked together. He looked at 
Jenny, and he thought, with a twinge of weariness, of all 
the Jennys he had looked at this way. "Would you like 
to dance, my dear?" 

He was an old man to Jenny, an old man she hardly 
knew, and it seemed to her that everybody in the room 
must be saying, "There goes A. D. with another one." But 
she tried to smile, tried to be having a terribly good time, 
thinking, If I want to be an actress, this is part of the 
job. And if I can't look as if I'm getting the thrill of my 
life out of dancing with this old fossil, what kind of an 
actress am I anyway? 

Nathan could have told her what kind of an actress she 
was. He had expressed himself rather vividly on that sub- 
ject after seeing her test that afternoon. 

"Robbins stinks," he had told his assistants as the lights 



56 



came on in the projection room. "She has a cute figure 
and a pretty face, but not unusual enough, and her acting 
is from Hollywood High School." 

That's what he should have told her. But he needed 
to be surrounded by Jenny Robbinses. Even though the 
analyst had told him what that was, he went on tossing 
them just enough crumbs of encouragement to keep their 
hopes alive. 

"Enjoying yourself, Jenny?" he said as he led her back 
to the table. 

"Oh, I'm having an elegant time, Mr. Nathan," she 
said. She tried to say it with personality, her eyes bright 
and her smile fixed. She felt as if she were back on the 
set going through the ordeal of making that test again. 

"After dancing a tango together, the least we could do 
is call each other by our first names," he said. 

He tried to remember the first time he had used that 
line; on Betty Bronson he thought it was. But Jenny 
laughed as if he had said something terribly witty. She 
laughed with all her ambition if not with all her heart. 

Her heart — or so she thought — had been left behind at 
1441I/2 Orange Grove Avenue. That's where Bill Mason 
lived. Bill worked as a grip on Nathan's lot. The grip is the 
guy who does the dirty work on a movie set. Or, as Bill 
liked to explain it, "I'm the guy who carries the set on his 
back. I may not be the power behind the throne but I'm 
sure the power under it." 

Jenny thought of the way she and Bill had planned to 
spend this evening, down at the Venice Amusement Pier. 
They usually had a pretty good time down there together 
Saturday nights. It was their night. Until A. D. Nathan 
had telephoned, in person. 

"Oh, Mr. Nathan, how lovely of you to call! I do have 
an appointment, but . . ." 

"I wish you could cancel it, dear," Nathan had said. 



A TABLE AT CIRO's 57 

"There's . . . there's something I'd like to talk to you 
about. I thought, over a drink at Ciro's . . ." 

Jenny had never been to Ciro's, but she could describe 
every corner of it. It was her idea of what heaven must be 
like, with producers for gods and agents as their angels. 

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Mac," Bill had called from 
the door a little later. "But that Old Bag" (referring to 
one of the screen's most glamorous personalities) "blew 
her lines in the big love scene fifteen straight times. I 
thought one of the juicers was going to drop a lamp on 
her." He looked at Jenny in the sequin dress, the pin-up 
model. "Hmmm, not bad. But a little fancy for roller- 
coasting, isn't it, honey?" 

"Bill, I know I'm a monster," she had said, watching 
his face carefully, "but I've got to see Mr. Nathan tonight. 
I'd've given anything to get out of it, but, well, I don't 
want to sound dramatic but . . . my whole career may 
depend on it." 

"Listen, Mac," Bill had said. "You may be kidding 
yourself, but you can't kid me. I was on the set when 
you made that test. If I'm ever going to be your husband 
I might as well begin right by telling you the truth. 
You were NG." 

"I suppose you know more about acting than Mr. Na- 
than," she said, hating Bill, hating the Venice Pier, hat- 
ing being nobody. "Mr. Nathan told me himself he 
wanted to keep my test to look at again." 

"Are you sure it's the test he wants to keep?" Bill said. 

Here in Ciro's the waiter was filling her glass again, 
and she was laughing at something funny and off-color 
that Bruce Spencer had just said. But she couldn't forget 
what she had done to Bill, how she had slapped him and 
handed back the ring, and how, like a scene from a bad 
B picture, they had parted forever. 

For almost fifteen minutes Jenny had cried because 



58 



Bill was a wonderful fellow and she was going to miss 
him. And then she had stopped crying and started mak- 
ing up her face for A. D. Nathan because she had read 
too many movie magazines. This is what makes a great 
actress, she thought, sorrow and sacrifice of your personal 
happiness, and she saw herself years later as a great star, 
running into Bill in Ciro's after he had become a famous 
cameraman. "Bill," she would say, "perhaps it is not too 
late. Each of us had to follow our own path until they 
crossed again." 

"Oh, by the way, Lita," A. D. had told his wife when 
she came into his dressing room to find out if he had any 
plans for the evening, "there's a little actress I'd like to 
take along to Ciro's tonight. Trying to build her up. So 
we'll need an extra man." 

"We might still be able to get hold of Bruce," Lita 
said. "He said something about being free when we left 
the club this afternoon." 

Nathan knew they could get hold of Bruce. Lita and 
Bruce were giving the Hollywood wives something to 
talk about over their canasta these afternoons. Sometimes 
he dreamt of putting an end to it. But that meant killing 
two birds with bad publicity. And they were both his 
birds, his wife and his leading man. 

"All right," he said, "I'll give Spence a ring. Might not 
be a bad idea for the Robbins girl to be seen with him." 

Lita pecked him on the cheek. Bruce was dying to 
get that star-making part in Wagons Westward. This 
might be the evening to talk A. D. into it. 

And then, since the four of them might look too ob- 
vious, Nathan had wanted an extra couple. He tried sev- 
eral, but it was too late to get anybody in demand, and 
that's how, at the last minute, he had happened to think 
of the Carterets. 

When you talked about old-time directors you had to 



59 



mention Lew Carteret in the same breath with D. W. 
Griffith and Mickey Neilan. Carteret and Nathan had been 
a famous combination until sound pictures and the jug 
had knocked Carteret out of the running. The last job he 
had had was a quickie Western more than a year ago. 
And a year in Hollywood is at least a decade anywhere 
else. A. D. had forgotten all about Carteret until he re- 
ceived a letter from him a few months ago, just a friendly 
letter, suggesting dinner some evening to cut up touches 
about old times. But A. D. knew those friendly dinners, 
knew he owed Carteret a debt he was reluctant to repay, 
and so, somehow, the letter had gone unanswered. But in 
spite of himself, his conscience had filed it away for fur- 
ther reference. 

"I know who we'll get. The Lew Carterets. Been mean- 
ing to take them to dinner for months." 

"Oh, God," Lita said, as she drew on a pair of long 
white gloves that set off her firm tanned arms, "why don't 
we get John Bunny and Flora Finch?" 

"It might not be so bad," Nathan said, giving way to 
the sentimentality that thrives in his profession. "Mimi 
Carteret used to be a lot of fun." 

"I can just imagine," said Lita. "I'll bet she does a 
mean Turkey Trot." 

"Lew, do you think this means he's going to give you 
a chance again?" Mimi Carteret whispered as they walked 
off the dance floor together, "Easy on the wine, darling. 
We just can't let anything go wrong tonight." 

"Don't worry, sweetheart," he answered. "I'm watching. 
I'm waiting for the right moment to talk to him." 

Lita and Bruce were dancing again and Jenny was 
alone with A. D. at the table when the Carterets returned. 
It was the moment Jenny had been working toward. She 
could hardly wait to know what he thought of the test. 



60 



"I don't think it does you justice," Nathan was saying. 
"The cameraman didn't know how to light you at all. I 
think you have great possibilities." 

Jenny smiled happily, the wine and encouragement go- 
ing to her head, and Nathan reached over and patted her 
hand in what was meant to seem a fatherly gesture, 
though he lingered a moment too long. But Jenny hardly 
noticed, swept along in the dream. 

Lew Carteret looked at his watch nervously. It was al- 
most time for the floor show. There wouldn't be much 
chance to talk during the acts, and after that, the party 
would be over. He looked across at Mimi, trying to find 
the courage to put it up to A. D. If only A. D. would 
give him an opening. Lita and Bruce were watching too, 
wondering when to bring up Wagons Westward. And 
Andre, behind the head waiter's mask was thinking, 
Only ten more minutes and I will be speaking to A. D. 
about my scenario. 

"Andre," Nathan called, and the head waiter snapped 
to attention. "Are you sure there hasn't been a call for 
me?" 

"No, m'sieur. I would call you right away, m'sieur." 

Nathan frowned. "Well, make sure. It should have been 
here by now." He felt angry with himself for losing his 
patience. There was no reason to be so upset. This was 
just another long-distance call. He had talked to New 
York a thousand times before — about matters just as se- 
rious. 

But when Andre came running with the message that 
New York was on the wire, he could not keep the old 
fear from knotting his stomach and he jostled the table 
in his anxiety to rise. 

"You may take it in the second booth on the left, Mr. 
Nathan," said Ava Gardner, as she looked up from her 
switchboard with a prefabricated smile. But he merely 
brushed by her and slammed the door of the booth be- 
hind him. The telephone girl looked after him with the 



A TABLE AT CIRO's 61 

dream in her eyes. When he comes out I'll hafta think 
of something arresting to sayta him, she decided. God, 
wouldn't it be funny if he did notice me! 

Five minutes later she heard the door of the booth 
sliding open and she looked up and smiled. "Was the 
connection clear, Mr. Nathan?" 

That might do for a starter, she thought. But he didn't 
even look up. "Yes. I heard very well. Thank you," he 
said. He put half a dollar down and walked on. He felt 
heavy, heavy all over, his body too heavy for his legs to 
support and his eyes too heavy for the sockets to hold. He 
walked back to the table without seeing the people who 
tried to catch his glance. 

"Everything all right?" his wife asked. 

"Yes. Yes," he said. "Everything." 

Was that his voice? It didn't sound like his voice. It 
sounded more like Lew Carteret's voice. Poor old Lew. 
Those were great old times when we ran World-Wide to- 
gether. And that time I lost my shirt in the market and 
Lew loaned me 50 G's. Wonder what ever happened to 
Lew. 

Then he realized this was Lew Carteret, and that he 
was listening to Lew's voice. "A. D., this has sure been 
a tonic for Mimi and me. I know we didn't come here 
to talk shop, but — well, you always used to have faith in 
me, and . . ." 

"Sure, sure, Lew," A. D. said. "Here, you're one be- 
hind. Let me pour it. For old times." 

He could feel an imperceptible trembling in his hand 
as he poured the wine. 

Under the table a small, slender leg moved slowly, 
with a surreptitious life of its own, until it pressed mean- 
ingfully against his. Jenny had never slept with anybody 
except Bill. She was frightened, but not as frightened 
as she was of living the rest of her life in Hollywood as 
the wife of a grip in a bungalow court. 

Bruce nipped open his cigarette case — the silver one 



62 



that Lita had given him for his birthday — and lit a cig- 
arette confidently. "By the way, A. D., Lita let me read 
the script on Wagons. That's a terrific part, that bank 
clerk who has to go west for his health and falls in with 
a gang of rustlers. Wonderfully written. Who's going to 
play it?" 

"Any leading man in Hollywood except you," Nathan 
said. 

Bruce looked undressed without his assurance. The 
silence was terrible. 

Lita said, "But, A. D., that part was written for Bruce." 

All the rest of his face seemed to be sagging, but Na- 
than's hard black eyes watched them with bitter amuse- 
ment. "There isn't a part in the studio that's written for 
Bruce. The only thing that kept Bruce from being fired 
months ago was me. And now there's no longer me." 

Lita looked up, really frightened now. "A. D. What do 
you mean?" 

"I mean I'm out," he said. "Finished. Washed up. 
Through. Hudson called to say the Board voted to ask 
for my resignation." 

"What are you going to do now?" she said. 

He thought of the thing he had promised himself to 
do when his time came, drop out of sight, break it off 
clean. Hollywood had no use for anticlimaxes on or off 
the screen. But as he sat there he knew what would really 
happen. Move over, Colonel Selig and J. C. Blackburn, 
he thought. Make room for another ghost. 

The floor show was just starting. The undiscovered 
Rosemary Clooney was putting everything she had into her 
number, and playing right to A. D.'s table. Don't let the 
stars get in your eyes . . . 

And as she sang, Andre smiled in anticipation. So far 
everything had gone just as he had planned. And now 
the time had come to move A. D. up to that ringside 
table. 



63 



MEMORY IN WHITE 



He always used to stand at the entrance of the Grand 
Street gymnasium, a little yellow man in an immaculate 
white suit, white Panama hat, white shoes, white tie. 
This was Jose Fuentes. 

If you remember him at all, and you must be an old- 
timer at the fight clubs if you do, you remember a tough 
little Mexican kid with a wild left hook, weak on brains 
but strong on heart. Young Pancho Villa the Third, he used 
to call himself. No champion, never in the big money, just 
another one of the kids who come along for a while, who 
only know how to throw roundhouse punches with either 
hand and to bounce up after a knockdown without bother- 
ing to take their count and get their wind. The kind the 
fans go crazy about for a year or two and then don't recog- 
nize when they're buying peanuts or papers from them 
outside the stadium a year or two later. 



64 



Club fighters, they're called, a dime a dozen, easy to 
hit and hard to hurt. At least, hard to knock out. Plenty 
of hurt, sure, plenty of pain, but that all comes later, 
when they can't seem to get fights any more, when they 
start hanging around the gym. Not training, not working, 
just sort of hanging around. 

Now there are plenty of bums hanging around the 
gym every day in the week. A bum is any boxer who 
thinks he's going to be on Easy Street when he hangs up 
his gloves, and winds up on Silly Avenue instead. After 
that, they just hang around. They hang around waiting 
for another break, another manager, or a chance to pick 
up two, three dollars a round sparring with somebody's 
prospect, or a job as a second, or to put the bite on an 
old friend or a cocky youngster who wants to feel like a 
big shot. The gym is the only place they know, so all they 
can do is hang around and hope to make a dollar. 

But no one ever hung around like Young Pancho Villa 
the Third. Young Pancho went into the occupation of 
hanging around the gym as if it were a serious and re- 
spectable profession. None of this sitting around all day 
on the long wooden benches with your legs stretched out 
in front of you as if life were one long rest period be- 
tween rounds. No loitering for a man who calls himself 
Young Pancho Villa the Third, in honor of the Indian 
guerrilla whom the companeros in the cantinas still sing 
that corrido about. And his valiant little namesake who 
lost his flyweight championship in a San Francisco ring, 
and, some hours later, his life in a San Francisco hospital. 
No panhandling for a man with a name like that. No, 
Young Pancho Villa the Third had a vision. He was go- 
ing to get somewhere in the world. He was going to be 
an announcer. 

For it was a funny thing, whenever he tried to think 
back to his days in the ring, all those fights, even that 
high point in his career, that main event at the Legion 



MEMORY IN WHITE 65 

when Pete Sarmiento had him down nine times but 
couldn't put him away, all those beatings, all those rounds, 
all those punches he threw and the ones he caught, the 
whole thing seemed to run together. He would start 
thinking how it was in that tenth round against Sarmiento, 
hanging onto Pete to keep from going down, and instead 
he would be hanging onto Frankie Grandetta, or was it 
Baby Arizmendi? The memories kept spilling over and 
running together. 

There was only one memory that stood out sharply, 
refusing to blend with the others. It was a memory in 
white, the memory of a man in a very white suit, a very 
important man with a megaphone who used to climb 
through the ropes while Young Pancho and his opponent 
were sitting in their corners, and say in a very important 
voice to which everybody listened in respectful silence, 
"Lay-deez and gen- tie-men ..." 

A white suit, a megaphone and everybody listening. 
That was the vision. Young Pancho Villa the Third, the 
stocky little Mex with a child's face hammered flat as an 
English bulldog's, walked down Main Street in pursuit of 
a vision, a white-linen, double-breasted vision that floated 
ahead of him, leading him past the burleycue houses and 
the pool parlors, the nickel flophouses, the dime flop- 
houses and the exclusive clean-sheets-every-week two-bit 
flophouses, leading him past the saloons with their thread- 
bare elegance, the gaudy juke boxes, the gaudy and 
threadbare B-girls, past all those wonderful and tempting 
ways to spend his money. But Young Pancho kept his 
thick little hands in his pockets until he came to Manny 
(Nothing Over Five Dollars) Liebowitz' High Class Cloth- 
ing Store for Men. 

None of the other guys who hung around the gym were 
getting any gold stars on their report cards for neatness. 
Most of them wore suits that looked as if they had been 
used to mop up the floors of Happy Harry's saloon on 



66 



the corner. So Pancho was going to be smart. Pancho was 
going to look like class if it cost him a fortune. That suit 
in the window, for instance, that brand-new white linen 
suit, that was for Pancho. "Five Dollars," a large card 
pinned to the coat beckoned to Pancho. "Five Dollars," 
said another on the pants. 

"I take suit in window," Pancho said. 

"Wudja say, amigo?" asked Mr. Liebowitz. 

Pancho's voice was husky and his words bumped against 
one another. Too many collisions between his brain and 
someone else's fist had thickened his natural accent to an 
almost inarticulate jargon. "Punch-patter," some of the 
boys described it. 

"I take suit in window," Pancho said, pointing a short, 
chunky finger at the one he wanted. 

"And what a bargain!" Mr. Liebowitz began. "In all of 
Los Angeles show me another genuine linen for ten 
dollars." 

"Ten dollars?" said Pancho. "In window it say only 
five." 

"Five dollars," said Mr. Liebowitz agreeably. "Sure, five 
dollars. Five for the coat and five for the pants. Just like 
it says in the window." 

Pancho went out into the street and gazed at the suit 
again. He pressed his nose against the window and then 
stepped back and appraised it like a connoisseur studying 
a work of art. It was so beautiful. It was so white and so 
dapper. For a luxury maybe ten dollars was awfully steep. 
But this was no luxury. This was an investment. This was 
the uniform Young Pancho Villa the Third would need 
in his chosen profession. 

"You have my size?" he said. "Must fit very good." 

"Don't take my word for it," said Mr. Liebowitz. "My 
motto is Suit Yourself. Suit — Yourself. Get it?" 

The suit might have been a good fit when Pancho was 
still making the featherweight limit. But he was almost a 



MEMORY IN WHITE 



middleweight now and the coat button strained against 
his belly, the seat of his pants stretched skin-tight across 
his rump. 

"Ugh, too tight," Pancho gasped. "Got him bigger?" 

"Bigger?" said Mr. Liebowitz. "You want to be in style, 
don't you? That is just the way the college boys is wear- 
ing them this season. Just off the campus from UCLA!" 

Young Pancho Villa the Third looked over his shoulder 
into the mirror. Not so bad at that. Nice and form-fitting. 
Not soiled and baggy like the pants on those bums 
around the gym. 

Then he tried on the shoes. Pointed white shoes with 
special heels built up, almost like a girl's. "Those are 
absolutely genuine imitation buck," Mr. Liebowitz ex- 
plained. "Marked down from four-fifty to one-ninety-nine." 

Young Pancho Villa the Third walked down Main 
Street in his white linen suit, a clean shirt, a white cot- 
ton tie, genuine imitation-buck shoes and a Panama hat 
worn at a rakish angle over one eye. The outfit had set 
him back thirteen ninety-nine, nearly all the money he 
had, but it was worth it. Then he went into a pawnshop 
and asked to look at megaphones. "I want biggest mega- 
phone you got in place," he said. 

The pawnbroker handed a bulky, battered megaphone 
over the counter. 

"Now I am fight announcer," Young Pancho announced. 
He caressed the megaphone, raised it to his lips and 
shouted excitedly, "Een-tro-ducing Young Pancho Villa 
the Third, the chomp-peen announcer of the worrrrrld!" 

The first day Pancho showed up at the gym in his new 
role he got his money's worth out of that megaphone. 
When he put it to his mouth, he lifted his head and 
closed his eyes like a concert artist. He stood there in the 
corner by the entrance shouting his announcements into 
that megaphone, thrilled with the sound of the beautiful 
deep voice that rose from his lips like organ music. Or at 



68 



least, so it seemed to him, as he paused to listen to it 
reverberating through the big, high-ceilinged room full 
of serious boys with narrow waists and glistening skins, 
bending, stretching, skipping, shadow-boxing, punching 
the bags or listening earnestly to the instructions of men 
with fat bellies, boneless noses, ulcers, dirty sweatshirts, 
brown hats pushed back from sweaty foreheads, the train- 
ers, the managers, the experts. 

In the center ring Ceferino Garcia, the Pride of the 
Islands, was throwing punches at the air, ducking and 
weaving as he crowded an imaginary opponent to the 
ropes. 

Young Pancho Villa the Third held his megaphone 
high and shouted, "Een-tro-ducing, ot one hon-dred and 
seexty pounds, that tareefic boy from the Phil-ha-peens ..." 

He spread his legs and bellowed. He was the greatest 
announcer in the world. Only nobody could understand 
him. The accent and a speech motor sputtering along on 
half its cylinders produced a kind of guttural doubletalk. 
Eddie Gibbs, the bald, irritable little guy who ran the 
gym, went over to Pancho and said, "What do you think 
you're doing?" 

"Me announce," Pancho said. "Me announce very fine. 
Work here in gym every day." 

"Go on," Gibbs said. "What the hell is there to an- 
nounce around here? You're punchy." 

That was a fighting word and Pancho felt the blood 
rush to his head. Anger brought his thick lips to a child- 
ish pout. "Ponchy. Who ponchy? Me no ponchy. Those 
boms over there, maybe they ponchy. Me have job. Me 
announcer." 

Jerry La Pan, who had the best string of boys in town, 
stopped to listen on his way in. Jerry was a great ribber 
and he worked at it all the time. He flipped Pancho four 
bits and said, "That's for the commercial. I wanna buy 
the next fifteen minutes." 



MErORY IN WHITE 69 

Pancho raised his megaphone solemnly. "Een-tro-duc- 
ing, Jerry La Pon, thot great mon-ager of thot coming 
heavyweight chom-peen ..." 

All the boys got a bang out of that, so Gibbs let 
Pancho hang around for laughs. After the third day it 
didn't seem so funny any more, not even to Jerry La Pan, 
but Pancho went right on announcing. He couldn't have 
been more conscientious about it if Gibbs had put him 
on the payroll. Every day Pancho would check in at noon, 
announce until two, take half an hour off for lunch and go 
back to his megaphone again until the last tired fighter hit 
the showers at six. 

He was something of a genius in his own way. He could 
keep up a steady stream of announcements for six hours 
and succeed in saying nothing that anybody could under- 
stand. He kept it up so long that after a while the sound 
of his voice seemed to blend into the other sounds that 
made the rhythm of the place — the slapping of the small 
bag, the thudding of the big, the clicking of the jump 
ropes, and the rumbling of the canvas-covered boards un- 
der the weight of the boxers' dancing feet. 

The first few days, all the boys thought the announcing 
was the funniest thing they ever saw. Then, when they 
were running low on wisecracks, they began to pretend he 
wasn't there. And finally they didn't have to pretend any 
more. Pancho and his white suit and megaphone were on 
the job all day long and no one even bothered to look 
around. 

No one, that is, but Soldier Conlon. The Soldier was 
one of those characters who used to do a little boxing 
and has nothing to show for it but a couple of cauliflower 
ears and a cauliflower brain. After hanging up his 
gloves, he worked the corners for a couple of years, but 
one of the fights he worked looked so wrong that the 
commission had to take somebody's license away to save 
its face, and, of course, the Soldier was their man. 



70 



So now the Soldier just hung around, as the boys say, 
making himself useless. If he got hold of a couple of 
bucks he picked up a hand in one of the poker games in 
the back room. If things got so bad that he had to go to 
work, he'd promote himself a little dough, finding tank- 
ers for some new bum they were trying to build up. The 
Soldier was never what the boys call a vicious character. He 
didn't have the guts or the brains to kill somebody or rob 
a bank. The Soldier was strictly alley-fighting and two- 
bit larceny. 

Soldier Conlon would have been just another Grand 
Street hanger-onner, if it hadn't been for one thing. His 
sense of humor. Especially where Young Pancho Villa the 
Third was concerned. For instance it didn't take him 
any time at all to find out what a nut Pancho was on the 
subject of keeping his white outfit spotless. So every time 
Soldier Conlon would come into the gym he'd stick his 
hand out and say, "Hiya, Pancho, how's the kid today?" 
And when he drew his hand back there would be a big 
black smudge on Pancho's sleeve where the Soldier had 
drawn the end of a burnt match across it with the other 
hand. 

And when Pancho finally got wise to the hand-shaking 
gag, the Soldier would come by and say, "Glad to see ya 
puttin' your best foot forward, Pancho, old boy," and he'd 
stamp on Pancho's white imitation-buck shoes, leaving a 
dirty smear across the toe. 

After a while it got so every time Pancho saw Conlon 
coming he'd run for the high stool near the entrance and 
draw up his feet and wrap his arms around himself and 
pull in his head like a turtle. "Stay 'way, stay 'way now," 
Pancho would plead. And the Soldier's answer would be 
a grin, showing wide orange gums and a mouth full of 
cheap store teeth. "Whatsa matter, Pancho? We pals, ain't 
we, Pancho o' kid, o' kid?" Then he'd turn around and 



MEMORY IN WHITE 71 

wink at whoever happened to be standing around, to make 
sure they were getting the joke. 

One day Eddie Gibbs decided to put on an amateur 
boxing show. As soon as Pancho heard about it he got 
all excited and ran up to Gibbs' office. "Missa Geebs," 
he said. "You put on beeg show, you need a-numma-one 
announcer." 

Well, at first Gibbs told Pancho what to do with his 
megaphone. But Pancho kept hollering until finally 
Gibbs began to see the possibilities of it. Young Pancho 
Villa the Third, the greatest doubletalk announcer in the 
world. The louder he talked, the less you understood. 
They could throw him in once in a while just for laughs. 
So Gibbs said, "Sure, Pancho. You're in. I'll even put 
your name in the program." 

There was no holding Pancho after that. He strutted 
around the gym like a bantam rooster. He was announc- 
ing everything that went on in a very impressive and in- 
articulate way. The boys said he even announced when 
Eddie Gibbs took a leak. 

But the day before the amateur show, the boxers had to 
struggle along without their announcing. "How about 
givin' out with some of them announcements, Pancho?" 
Soupy Jones, the colored lightweight, laughed. 

"Is better to save voice for beeg show tomorrow night," 
Pancho explained. 

The next afternoon Pancho didn't show up at the gym 
at all. He was lying down in his room resting for his 
personal appearance. He left a call at the desk for seven 
o'clock. 

"Get up yourself, you bum," said the manager. Pancho 
was three weeks behind in his rent. 

At seven o'clock, Pancho rose, tested his megaphone, 
and went down to the end of the hall to wash his hands 
so he wouldn't leave any dirty fingerprints on his clothes. 



72 



He had washed and ironed his white shirt, chalked his 
shoes, and had given the Chinaman down the street i. 
buck to clean and press the suit and block his Panama 
hat. 

He went over to the gym half an hour early. He felt 
good inside, the way he used to feel when he was walking 
down the aisle to the ring and the companeros in the pea- 
nut gallery were yelling Viva, Pancho Villa! He went 
around glad-handing everybody outside, wanting to make 
sure all the boys saw him. In the gym the seats were full, 
and a lot of the boys were standing around the ring mak- 
ing bets and talking it over. Pancho wandered among 
them, careful not to brush his white linen against any- 
body's dirty suit. Someone let a stream of tobacco juice 
go and it narrowly missed Pancho's feet. ''Hey, you look 
where you spitting," Pancho scolded. 

He went over to the ring and picked up a program. He 
read through it eagerly, running his finger along the 
lines, until he found his name. It made him tingle all 
over when he saw it: "Special Announcer: Young Pancho 
Villa III." Eddie Gibbs was leaning against the ring 
with a pencil over his ear, going over the line-up for the 
evening with the referee. Pancho walked toward him 
briskly. He had better check over the program with Ed- 
die and make sure just when he was to go on, he thought 
to himself. He went over to Gibbs with self-conscious 
importance. 

Suddenly he stopped. Soldier Conlon was looking over 
Gibbs' shoulder. Pancho didn't think Conlon had seen 
him. He turned and tried to lose himself in the crowd. 
He edged behind two bigger men and started working 
his way around the ring. Then he heard the voice behind 
him, "Hey, Pancho. Hey, big shot." 

There had never been anything in the ring that fright- 
ened him like the sound of the Soldier's voice. Everything 
cramped inside him when he heard it. He must keep his 



MEMORY IN WHITE 73 

suit clean tonight, he thought, he must keep his shoes 
white. And though he did not know the words, the fear 
of them throbbed in him: he must not be violated to- 
night. He must not be sullied. 

The Soldier watched this fear come into Pancho's face, 
and Pancho saw the orange grin with the false teeth. The 
Soldier took a step toward him. Pancho backed away. 

"Hey, big shot. C'mere. I wanna talk to ya." 

Pancho ducked behind the seats. The Soldier moved 
after him, laughing as he went. Pancho walked faster. He 
could feel the sweat prickling under his collar. He broke 
into a trot. So did the Soldier. Pancho ran around the 
seats, and when he saw the Soldier still coming, he hur- 
ried up the stairs to the gallery. So did the Soldier. They 
were running now. They ran all the way around the bal- 
cony. Pancho's legs were short and the tight white suit 
checked his stride. The Soldier grinned as he ran. He 
was having a great time and he was gaining. "Hey, big 
shot," he kept calling. "Hey, big shot." 

Pancho raced past the door to the fire escape, wheeled 
and darted out. He tried to hold the door from the out- 
side, but the Soldier was too strong and the door pulled 
away from him. The orange gums and the false teeth and 
the crazy laugh were right behind him now. Pancho looked 
down the dizzying descent of fire escape that fell away to 
the narrow alley behind the gym. A feverish prayer beat 
in his mind. . . . Then his small, neat feet broke into a 
Bill Robinson tap dance down the metal steps. 

Still laughing, the Soldier reached down and grabbed 
the edge of Pancho's coat. For a moment Pancho dan- 
gled there in the Soldier's firm grip. With his hands 
swinging wildly into the air and his short legs pumping 
up and down in a futile effort to tear himself from the 
Soldier's grasp, he looked like a mechanical doll. 

Then suddenly his left fist shot out, the old left hook. 
All his body was behind that fist, and all his life. The 



74 



force of it spun him around, toward the Soldier. It caught 
the Soldier full in the mouth, smashing the laugh. The 
Soldier let go of Pancho's coat and snapped instinctively 
to the fighter's stance, the left arm straight out for the 
jab, the right cocked under the lowered jaw. 

The Soldier's left drove like a piston at Pancho's face. 
Pancho reeled backward. For a moment he was looking 
up at the sky above the roof of the gym, then at the nar- 
rowing darkness of the alley below, as he struggled to 
break his fall. He grabbed for the railing twice and it 
wasn't there, but the third time it was. He hung on des- 
perately with his right hand. The Soldier was coming at 
him again. Pancho squeezed his left fist tighter and 
crouched. 

He was in the ring now, crowded into a corner, hold- 
ing the top rung of the rope with his right hand to steady 
himself, lashing out with his left. The old hook, the 
wild left hook. The Soldier's face came down to meet the 
punch and his head snapped back. All that Pancho re- 
membered was the look of surprise on the Soldier's face 
before he tumbled gracelessly down the metal steps to 
melt into the darkness below. 

Young Pancho Villa the Third brushed himself off and 
walked back into the gym again. He was saved. That was 
all he could think about. He was saved from Soldier Con- 
Ion. There was nobody now to stop him from climbing 
into that ring under the glare of the overhead lights and 
raising his megaphone to his lips. 

Swinging his megaphone proudly, Pancho went down 
the aisle to the ring. Old-timers smiled to see this little 
brown man in the snappy white suit strutting by them 
like a pouter pigeon. Their voices followed him down 
the aisle in good-natured banter, "Hiya, Pancho, geev 
it to heem! — Well look who's here, our favorite an- 
nouncer ..." Pancho acknowledged his fans with an im- 
portant little nod and kept on going toward the ring. 



MEMORY IN WHITE 75 

Eddie Gibbs was in the ring, introducing a couple 
of old champs. After the champs had lumbered into the 
ring, mitted the crowd and lumbered out again, Gibbs 
grinned down at Pancho and announced, "Introducing 
next that distinguished personage of the boxing game, the 
Joe Humphreys of the West Coast, Young Pancho Villa 
the Third!" 

It got a laugh from the crowd. Some of the boys stuck 
out their tongues and gave it the razzberry. Others cupped 
their hands to their mouths and yelled witty remarks. 
But this isn't what Pancho heard. Young Pancho Villa 
the Third, standing under the arc light with the big meg- 
aphone in his hand, heard acclaim. He was up there at 
last where he had always wanted to be, a white suit, a 
megaphone and everybody listening. 

He was shining. His oily black hair was shining. His 
eyes were black and oily and shining too. His smiling 
face shone in the glow of the overhead lights. 

He bowed to his audience, just a little half-bow it 
was, performed with dignity, lifted the end of the mega- 
phone high in the air, and let his words roll through it 
louder than they ever had before: "Lay-deez and gen-tle- 
men, it geeves me grrreat pleasure to be here weeth you 
tonight . . ." 

Someone yelled, "But how much pleasure does it give 
us?" and the room rocked with laughter again. But Pan- 
cho went right on. He heard nothing but the sound of 
his own voice. He saw nothing but the metal-rimmed 
mouth of his megaphone, into which he was pouring his 
life. He no longer saw the faces laughing at him. Or the 
two men in dark-blue uniforms who had just entered 
quietly and stood waiting against the door in the rear. He 
still didn't know anything was wrong when Eddie 
Gibbs reached up to him through the ropes and handed 
him a folded piece of paper. He simply opened it with 
an official gesture, raised his megaphone again and made 



76 



a formal announcement: "Your atten-shun, pleece: Pancho 
— the cops are waiteeng for you at the entrance in co- 
neck-shun weeth the killeeng of Soldier Con-Ion." 

The crowd had already begun to laugh, but it caught 
itself, and a hush fell over the place. The absence of 
sound made Pancho stop and gulp for breath as if sound 
had taken the place of oxygen in his world. He read the 
message again, this time to himself. Then he climbed 
through the ropes and went slowly up the aisle toward 
the officers, swinging his megaphone as he walked. 



77 



THE BREAKING POINT 



"Well, honey, they're here all right," Brad said. "I just 
ran into Fefe in town. Says the fellow he took out yester- 
day got five sails. We've got a date with those babies in 
the morning." 

Martha looked up from the hotel bed and the maga- 
zine she was reading and stared at him. She saw a big 
man who had once been handsome, who had once been 
her lover and for a long time now had been her husband. 
She saw a ruddy complexion that women considered at- 
tractive and that derived almost in equal parts from out- 
door living and indoor drinking. 

"You saw Fefe, and you also saw the bottom of a glass," 
she said. 

"Oh, Christ, are you going to start that again?" 

She felt the same way about it, but the pattern that en- 
closed them would not let her rest. "I'm not starting it. 






78 



You started it when you broke your neck to get into town 
to have that first drink. In the hotel twenty minutes, and 
you can't wait to go into town and get stinking." 

She hated that word. She always used it when she felt 
like this. 

"I'm not stinking. Four, five drinks with Fefe — you call 
that stinking?" 

She watched him take his shirt and pants off and stretch 
out on the bed. "Not stinking," he mumbled. "Uncle 
Brad doesn't get stinking that easy. Just sleepy. Little 
sleepy, tha's all." 

Martha said nothing. She had decided to drop the case. 
It wasn't the charge she would have liked to convict him 
on anyway. She knew what the charge really was. It was 
the fishing in the morning. It was the fact that he never 
even bothered to ask her if she felt like going fishing in 
the morning. Their first day back in Acapulco after five 
years, after the long cruise, maybe she felt like just loung- 
ing around the hotel. Maybe she felt like strolling 
through town, noting the changes, or looking up the 
people who had been most hospitable to them on their 
honeymoon. But Brad would never know. Brad would 
never ask her. Brad would just go on being Brad, the big 
spoiled boy, the son of the chairman of the board, who 
never grew up, who thought everything was put there for 
his amusement — the sailfish, the native ports, Martha . . . 

He was lying on his back with his mouth slightly open, 
his breathing punctuated by the familiar sound of his 
snoring. If she were to come into a dormitory of a thou- 
sand sleeping men, Martha felt sure she would recognize 
that snoring. How many nights had it disturbed her 
reading? How many early mornings had its monotonous 
insistence penetrated sleep? How many nervous hours 
had she listened to it, and how many mornings had it 
provided the sound track for her first sight of the new 
day? 



THE BREAKING POINT 79 

The rhythm of his snoring was broken by a violent 
snort. He is like a bull, she thought, with no more ro- 
mance or even human passion in him than the stud bulls 
we've seen on ranches. He never asks me if I want to make 
love, he never asks me if I want to go fishing, he never 
asks me if I want to go to the bullfights; no, he just holds 
up two tickets—' They soaked me two hundred pesos 
apiece for these but I've got 'em!" And then, at the bull- 
fights, there was always that business of the horses . . . 
Oh, she knew her Hemingway; she knew that the business 
of the horses is neither good nor bad, is not important, is 
merely a necessary, momentary unpleasantness that 
should not distract one from the real issue — the integrity 
with which the torero is preparing his bull for death. But 
Brad there, laughing at the jerky movements of that 
skinny horse's leg after the bull had refused to take the 
point of the pica for his answer, laughing and telling her 
to take her hands away from her face. My God, how close 
are sympathy and selfishness, she thought. When I cry for 
the horse, the innocent bystander crushed to earth, I cry 
for myself, trembling against the impact of the dark beast. 

Once, after a particularly cruel bullfight, she had re- 
fused to speak to him for the rest of the afternoon. And 
up in the hotel room before dressing for dinner, the time 
he always liked, she would not give herself to him — not 
so soon after the business of the horse. 

He had tossed his head then, with a bull's rage and a 
bull's stubbornness, and had roared out into the hall, on 
his way to the bar, with a familiar threat that disgusted 
her, that made her want to remove herself forever from 
the path of his charge. She had stood at the window look- 
ing down into the great avenue, her mind already hur- 
rying ahead to her suitcase, her clothes, the note she 
would leave . . . but when he came in several hours 
later, listing slightly with his overload of tequila, and 
threw himself down on the bed and began to snore, she 



80 



was still there, trapped like a bird that has come in 
through an opening it can no longer find. 

As she watched and listened to him sleep that other eve- 
ning she had wanted to blame her failure to leave him 
on the rigidity of her Boston family tradition, a back- 
ground that shrank from scandal and the public charge- 
and-countercharge that delighted tabloid readers. But 
she knew herself too well to accept this as any more than 
the hard outer shell of the frailty of flesh and spirit that 
would not let her act. It was almost an illness, this passiv- 
ity. The symptoms went back at least twenty years, for 
she could still remember coming home from first grade 
and saying, "Mummy, the girl across the aisle from me 
holds my hand all the time. The whole recess she holds 
my hand and I don't want her to." "But, darling, don't 
give her your hand if you don't like to," Mummy had 
said. But of course it was never as simple as that, for 
Martha didn't know how to tell the girl — and so that 
stronger girl had gone on holding Martha's hand through- 
out the rest of the term. 

It was the same with Brad. She could not get her hand 
away from his. "Just tell him you've had enough," Mar- 
tha's one close friend would tell her. But it was always 
easier to put off the final break, to wait until the trip was 
over, to make sure she wasn't pregnant . . . and some- 
times when she was sure she was ready, Brad would tap 
some hidden spring of intuition, and, then for a while he 
would soften to the man she thought she had married. 
He would bring her the special flowers she liked and be 
gentle with her — the way only the very cruel know how to 
be gentle — and so, for a short time she would forget, 
wanting so much to forget. And by the time his bogus 
little courtship had worn thin, her determination, fragile 
as spun glass, would have shattered. 

If only he would perform one final act that could set 
her off, she thought. Yes, she was like the rusty trigger 



THE BREAKING POINT 81 

of a gun he had forgotten was loaded. It would take all 
his strength to bring the hammer down on the striking 
point. But even as she feared it, she waited for it. 

Next morning they reached the docks at eight instead 
of seven-thirty because Martha had taken too long in the 
bathroom. Brad had been needling her with a sharp min- 
ute hand from the time he awoke. It was her bitter knowl- 
edge that an appointment with a fishing boat was the only 
thing he took seriously. He had had his picture in quite a 
few magazines as a master of giant game fish. It was the best 
thing he did. 

The boat wasn't a clean boat, not even by Mexican 
standards, and the native skipper merely muttered some- 
thing without smiling when they came aboard. "He's sore 
because we're late," Brad said. "They like to get out 
there before the sun's up too high." 

Martha didn't say anything. She really didn't care what 
effect the extra time had on the moods of his pockmarked 
Mexican. She was watching the mate. He had a cadaver- 
ous face covered by an unkempt beard. Normally he 
should have been about five feet tall, but a slight hump, 
or rather a ridge running between his shoulders, bent 
him over until he was hardly more than four feet high. 

They went out past Hornos, the beach that the Acapul- 
quenos frequent at sunset, and Martha could remember 
her first swim there with Brad when the flaming red sun 
lit the waters around them with cool fire and the palm 
trees behind the beach stood out in brilliant silhouette 
against the purple sky. Had she loved him that evening 
long ago? She tried to remember: yes, she had, for his Irish 
good looks, for his gaiety, and for the elaborate charade 
of romance he had practiced on her. 

She looked over at him now, as if to compare the sham 
she had briefly loved five years ago with this solid reality 
who was carefully unwrapping his fishing gear — the 
Hardy reel he had picked up in England and the O'Brien 



82 



rod bought two seasons ago in Miami, the rod that had 
conquered yellowtail off Ensefiada, tuna near Guaymas, 
marlin in the Caribbean, and tarpon in the channels 
through the mangrove swamps that lie off Key West. He 
was careless about most of his possessions, but not about 
this rod. 

The boat slowed to trolling speed and Brad paid out 
his line. The hunchback had a pole for Martha and fixed 
the base of the rod in the socket of her chair. 

"Well, muchacha/' Brad said, "better get the big gaff 
ready. I feel lucky today." 

If the hunchback heard the feminine ending, his face 
gave no sign. They had spent nearly all their winters in 
Latin countries, and Martha's Spanish was good enough 
to cause her to flinch from Brad's linguistic slips. But 
Brad took pride in his inability to speak foreign lan- 
guages. And he was in too good a mood at the moment to 
care whether he called this deformed native a boy or a 
girl. There were really only a few occasions, Martha was 
thinking, when Brad's humor was so high — when he was 
starting to fish, when he came in with a fish bigger and 
gamer than anyone else's, when he had had more than 
two drinks but less than six, and when he was undressing 
for his pleasure before dinner. 

"Come on, get on there, baby!" Brad was talking to 
them somewhere under the sea. "Let's get a big one for 
Uncle Brad." 

When nothing happened for a while, the hunchback 
threw out some chum, live bait of fairly good size, to 
draw the larger fish. In a few moments a sea gull ap- 
peared, maneuvering in over the wake of the boat to dive 
for the small fish. 

"Gaviota," the hunchback muttered. "Damn gaviota." 

A second gull came in overhead, and then another, 
coasting or winging easily over the stern. They were a 



THE BREAKING POINT 83 

small variety, very white, and Martha enjoyed their grace 
as they floated overhead. 

"Damn gaviota/' the hunchback muttered again. He 
reached into a paper bag for a small stone — Martha real- 
ized that he must have brought the stones along for that 
purpose — and tossed it up at them. It fell short of the 
birds. 

"Come on, muchacha," Brad laughed. "Where's the 
old pitching arm?" 

The hunchback threw again, but his physical disability 
limited his throw. "I get hands on gaviota" — his English 
was almost unintelligible — "I — " Instead of a word here, 
he substituted a terrible cracking sound of tongue against 
teeth and a quick gesture of snapping down with both 
fists. 

The sudden violence of it, rising out of this wretched 
little man, made Brad laugh. But it left Martha with a 
sinking feeling of discomfort. 

After a while she felt a tug on her line, pulled her pole 
back the way Brad had taught her, and then lowered it at 
the same time she began reeling in. 

"You got something there — doesn't look like too much," 
Brad said. He never liked anyone else to catch the first 
one. 

But as the thing she had caught came closer to the boat, 
it broke surface, flapping its wings wildly and giving forth 
a shrill wail. 

"Damn gaviota/' the hunchback said. "Pull in, pull 
in." 

Martha could feel the bird pulling against her line, 
thrashing the water with its wings as it fought for life. 

"Here," she said, quickly handing her rod to the hunch- 
back. "No me gusta." She tried not to watch while the 
bird was pulled into the boat. But she had to listen to its 
screams; and when they suddenly became louder and 



84 



more frightened, she knew it was held fast in the hunch- 
back's fierce, sun-blackened little hands. She was imagin- 
ing what he would do to it — twist its neck or slam it against 
the side — when she heard the sound of what the hunch- 
back was doing to it. It was not too different from the 
sound he had made with his tongue against his teeth 
when he had been pantomiming the act before. She kept 
her eyes away until she was sure it must be over, and then 
she turned around, just as the limp white body was flung 
into the sea. 

It floated on top of the water with its wings spread out 
as if it were in flight. Then she saw the bird suddenly 
bunch forward in a furious effort to rise from itself. 

"Brad, it's still living! It's alive! He didn't kill it!" 

"Where've you been?" Brad said. "All he did was break 
its wings and throw it back." 

She watched the stern pull away from the crippled bird 
bobbing in the boat's wake. The gull was silent now. Its 
silence seemed even more terrible to Martha than its 
shrieking. 

"Why does he do that? Does he have to do that?" 

Brad laughed. "He hates those things like poison. Says 
it teaches them a lesson." 

The hunchback was setting her line out for her again. 
Four or five gulls were over the boat now. "I don't think I 
want to fish any more," she said. 

"What do you want to do?" Brad reprimanded. "Let 
the muchacha fish for you?" 

It was easier, she felt, just to sit there holding the line 
than to let him ride her all the way. She prayed she 
wouldn't catch another one, though. She didn't think she 
could stand another one. 

She could not take her eyes from the white speck that 
bobbed in the distance. She could feel it struggling to rise 
with its helpless wings. 

Suddenly Brad let out a cry of joy — "Sailfish!" — and the 



THE BREAKING POINT 85 

boat came to life. The hunchback's face was animated 
with a gargoyle smile, and even the dark Indian mask that 
the skipper wore for a face was lit with fisherman's hope 
and eagerness for the catch. 

"I got a good one," Brad called, fighting it happily. "A 
good one!" 

The hunchback was jabbering at Martha, and Brad 
shot her an anxious glance, his face red with effort. "Damn 
it, reel in! Reel in, for Christ's sake!" he shouted. 

Martha had been watching the drowning gull. The 
hunchback snatched her line from her and began winding 
frantically to get it in out of the way. But it was too late. 
The sailfish had drawn Brad's line across and back under 
Martha's and their lines were becoming hopelessly tan- 
gled. 

No longer able to reel in, Brad gave himself to profan- 
ity. "Damn it, that's the first thing I ever told you! You 
goddam nipple-head!" 

The tangled lines went slack as Brad's sailfish threw 
the hook. "He's gone," Brad said tragically. "Would' ve 
hit fifty, maybe sixty pounds . . ." And his words were a 
jumble of profanity again. 

Because our lines were crossed, I ruined his day, Mar- 
tha thought. Both lines were in the boat now, and the 
hunchback was working deliberately to loosen the 
knotted loops. 

It was almost half an hour before they could fish again. 
The sun was directly overhead, beating down oppres- 
sively. A dozen gulls were following them now. 

"Gaviota" the hunchback said. "Damn gaviota." 

Just then several dived for Brad's line and his pole 
dipped sharply. "Sonofabitch. Now Y ve hooked one." He 
was so exasperated that he couldn't even reel in. "Here, 
muchacha, you handle it." In his defeat, he turned on 
Martha again. "God damn it, next time I hook into 
something big, reel in, reel in like I told you." 



86 



The gull that had been hooked left the water and flew 
up over the boat with the line trailing from its beak. 
Martha could see it flapping directly overhead, pulling 
against the hook and crying as the metal point ripped the 
lining of its throat. As the hunchback reeled it in, it flew 
around wildly over their heads. Martha screamed, and the 
gull screamed with her. What a horrible female chorus, 
she thought. 

With a neat gesture, the hunchback reached up and 
snatched the bird. 

"Don't," Martha said. "Please don't." 

"Wait a minute," Brad said. "Let me have it." 

Thank you, Brad, Martha thought, thank you, thank 
you. Do it quickly. 

Brad took the bird, exactly as he had seen the hunch- 
back do it, snapped its wings in his big hands and tossed 
it back into the sea. 

"That the way you do it, muchacha?" he said, laughing. 

She watched Brad's gull flounder and then rise in a 
series of desperate convulsions. He had not even done this 
as the hunchback had, through hatred of everything more 
perfect than himself. It was merely something he had 
never done before. 

She put her fingers to her throat to feel the throbbing. 
She shut her eyes against the glare on the water. Oh God, 
she thought, seeing in her mind the image of her dead 
father, the time has come at last, has come. Dear Father, 
give me strength . . . 



87 



THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 



When I first met Doc he was working in the drug store on 
the corner, just outside the studio. That is, he was em- 
ployed there, for he never seemed to be working. Doc 
treated the place as a sort of salon. He always managed to 
look more like a man of the world than a hired clerk. He 
had the dapper, creased appearance of a carbon-copy Man 
of Distinction. His face was florid and had begun to bulge 
over his high stiff collar. His eyes were always laughing at 
everything. 

I was sent to the drug store on one of those annoying 
errands to get a physic for our associate producer, Harry 
Small. 

Doc came forward in a flashy double-breasted suit with 
a red carnation in his buttonhole. 

"I would like some kind of physic," I whispered. 



There are usually two ways to discuss a physic. Either 
you speak of it in hushed tones, or you stand your ground 
and blurt it out. But Doc was the kind of man who could 
lend as much dignity to the peddling of a physic as to the 
selling of rare manuscripts. 

"And may I ask for whom it is for?" he said. 

"You just did — it's for Mr. Small." 

"Oh," said Doc. "Why didn't you say so in the first 
place?" 

"What's the diff?" I asked. "Producers need the same 
physics as the rest of us. Even supermen like Harry Small. 
Give." 

"Why does he need it?" Doc persisted. 

"Listen," I said, "he's in the projection room now cut- 
ting his new picture. Why don't you break in and ask 
him?" 

Doc scolded me with a glance. "A physic is no laughing 
matter, young man," he said. 

"Who's laughing?" I said. "Maybe he needs it because 
he got married last night and threw a big party for both 
his friends and all his enemies." 

"In that case," said Doc solemnly, "I would suggest 
castor oil." 

Doc's eyes pled sincerity, but as I looked at him I got 
the feeling that he wasn't as dumb as he looked, that all 
this pomp and circumstance were just a joke, a very funny 
joke Doc was playing on the world. He was actually 
humoring you into thinking you were important, and what 
you were doing was important. All he seemed to want out 
of life was to make you feel that every second was a crisis 
in the world. 

As Doc wrapped up the castor oil he inquired about 
Harry Small's wife as if he were about to say, "Next time 
you see her, give her my very best." Doc made you be- 
lieve that being a drug-store salesman was just a hobby. 
I am sure that if President Eisenhower had ever ordered a 



THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 89 

toothbrush from him, he would have delivered it to the 
White House himself, saying, "I just dropped in a moment 
to be sure Mamie is taking care of her teeth — and what's 
new with the wages and hours bill?" 

"What sort of lady is Mrs. Small?" he asked. 

"I can't answer that," I said, "because I never heard 
her called that before." 

"I hear she's stacked," Doc said. 

Like all the great actors in the world, most of them 
never appearing on stage or screen, Doc could shift his 
moods like gears. His dignity was just so much grease 
paint that melted off in the heat of conversation, espe- 
cially conversation about women. There was a touch of 
Casanova and plenty of traveling salesman in him. 

"Give me that castor oil," I said. "Mr. Small may need 
it when he gets through running his new picture." 

"I've been thinking about that marriage," said Doc, 
propping his chin up on the castor-oil box. 

"Don't worry about Harry," I said. "The only man in 
Hollywood who ever stood in his way was a traffic cop — 
and Harry ran him down. . . . Now give me my change. 
If I know my Harry, I'll be among the unemployed if I 
don't get back in two minutes flat." 

I finally got my package and started off as if there were 
a pack of mad supervisors at my heels. 

"Let me know how he makes out with it," Doc called. 
"You might ring me up at home. I'll be worried." 

"Listen," I yelled back, "the way you carry on, you 
oughta join the Screen Actors Guild." 

"I am a member," he answered. "I picked up a day at 
Metro last week, working with Greer." 

That's how Doc got his big chance in the studio, acting, 
but not in a picture. Instead, he starred himself in a little 
life drama called Feeling Sorry for Harry. It so happened 
that Harry was reaching that stage where the sobs of his 
commiserators was his favorite sound track. He was be- 



90 



ginning to believe the things they wrote about him in 
the local trade papers, about his being A Martyr to Our 
Business. 

One morning a tragic editorial sobbed its way through 
a column and a half of the Hollywood Recorder. It was 
full of genuine concern for the men who almost sacrifice 
their lives to become heads of great studios. In its unique 
prose style, it began: 

Go into the executive chambers and you will see producers 
all fagged out, tired almost to complete exhaustion, physically 
and mentally out, yes, even sick. 

Naturally Doc read this, as he followed the trade papers 
faithfully in order to keep his finger on the pulse of the 
industry. Naturally, he took this message to heart. He ran 
straight to the phone and called Mr. Small. 

"I'm sorry," said Harry's secretary sweetly but firmly, 
"Mr. Small is in a Board meeting. He can't talk to any- 
one." 

"But this is a matter of life and death," Doc begged, 
his voice breaking with emotion. 

Small got on the phone. "Harry Small speaking," he 
said aggressively. "Whose life and death are you talking 
about?" 

"Yours," said Doc emphatically. "I just read that warn- 
ing about you, Mr. Small." 

"What warning?" asked Harry, ready to hang up. 

"In the Recorder/' said Doc tearfully. "About producers 
working themselves to death. They meant you. It isn't 
safe." 

"Well I'll be damned," said Harry. He was softening. 

"We can't afford to lose you," said Doc. "If I were you 
I'd keep some adrenalin in your desk all the time, old 
man." 



THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 91 

"Thanks," said Harry, "111 have my secretary get me 
some." 

"Ill rush it right over myself," Doc said. 

Three minutes later he loped into the office like an 
Eskimo dog rushing serum to stricken Nome. 

The next morning Doc was the new studio receptionist. 
He sat proudly behind the desk at the main door. I 
found him enthroned there when I was making my mail 
round. 

He told me Mr. Small had given him the job because a 
good receptionist should anticipate people's wishes, he 
should be able to size people up quickly enough to separ- 
ate the wheat of desirable visitors from the usual sight- 
seeing chaff, he should have tact, patience, insight, humor 
and intuition. 

"I see," I said. "A receptionist is something like God, 
only he's on the payroll." 

"It's the most fascinating job in the studio," Doc con- 
fided. "It means you have to know something about every 
department — as the first contact outsiders meet, I am the 
Face of the Studio, as it were." 

From the moment Doc became the Face of the Studio, 
the reception room was charged with excitement, impor- 
tance and intrigue. Every stranger who asked for an inter- 
view pass was treated as a potential spy determined to 
dynamite the sound stages. Any visitor of importance whom 
Doc recognized would be salaamed and announced like 
a nobleman entering a royal house. Job seekers no longer 
under his suspicion would receive lengthy advice about 
their future in the studio, or Doc would inquire into their 
background, decide they were not yet ready and urge them 
to look for more experience elsewhere first. 

One morning a delegation of high-school students from 
Atlanta, Georgia, bore down on the studio fifty strong. 

"We cahm from G'ogia," said the animated school- 



92 



teacher who led them, "and we'd sho' like to see one of 
these studios." 

Doc called Small's office and the answer was, "Let 
them march through Georgia — not here." 

It was a tense moment. 

"I'm sho' sorry," he said. "The studio is closed fo' the 
day. But if you all'll jes sit yo'self down, I'll be mighty 
glahd to tell you-all about it." 

I kept going through the reception room for an hour, 
and Doc never stopped talking. The schoolteacher was so 
glad to find somebody from Dixie that she hung on every 
magnolia-scented word. 

Word of this triumph got back to Harry Small, and he 
puffed a thick smoke screen of pride around him with his 
Havana-Havana. 

"That man has push," he said. "He deserves something. 
Raise his salary to a hundred-and-seventy-five a month." 

But Harry Small could never understand people ex- 
cept in terms of himself. Doc didn't have the push of a 
snail. He wasn't playing to win. It was just good clean fun, 
and an irresistible urge to take care of it, to build it up, 
to treat little acorns as if they were great oaks. 

As Doc grew more accustomed to his job, this urge 
began to get out of hand. Small's secretary, Judy, no- 
ticed it first. Doc called her one day and told her to call 
a Mr. Carteret as soon as Mr. Small came in. 

"But I know Mr. Small doesn't want to talk to him," 
Judy said. 

"But you have to tell him," Doc said, "for my sake." 

"What's it got to do with you?" she asked. 

"I gave Mr. Carteret my word of honor Mr. Small 
would call him," Doc answered. "You wouldn't let me 
down, would you?" 

"Listen," Judy said, "will you relax?" 

I was just the office boy, so I could tell her, but she 
didn't have Doc right, either. It was like asking the Statue 



THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 93 

of Liberty to relax. They both had their part to play, it 
was their place in the world. 

Carteret was an old director, famous in silent days, 
who had suddenly appeared at the reception desk one day. 
He had one of those faces that say: I haven't worked in 
years. His face was trellised with purple veins from too 
much drinking and not enough forgetting. He turned out, 
to his surprise, to be an old friend of Doc's. 

"Hello, Lew," Doc said, "haven't seen you since Shirley 
Temple was a pup. What can I do you for?" 

"I thought I might try going back to work for a change," 
Carteret said, too desperate to sound very funny. "What's 
new over here?" 

Doc told him everything he knew, and he hadn't chatted 
with secretaries and read notes upside down on executives' 
desks for nothing. 

"It looks like we're going to make a big American caval- 
cade epic," Doc concluded. 

"Yeah?" Carteret said. "I'm the guy who produced the 
biggest cavalcade before talking pictures — Like Father, 
Like Son." 

"Of course Harry didn't exactly tell me," Doc said, 
"but one of our readers has been reading in the American 
historical wing of the public library for the past two weeks 
and three vets from the old soldiers' home came through 
here yesterday." 

"That's the break I need," Carteret said. 

"I'll take care of it," Doc said. 

He called Judy and made an appointment for him. 
Carteret only had to wait an hour and fifteen minutes. 

"Thanks, old boy," he said to Doc gratefully as he was 
called in. "You certainly have a pull around here." 

Five minutes later Carteret came out. His face was red 
and perspiration was dripping down onto his only clean 
shirt. 

"What did Harry say?" Doc asked. 



94 



"Listen," said Carteret grimly, "he told me you popped 
out with the studio secret of the year. He warned me that if 
his idea ever gets out, he'll run us both out of the industry. 
I practically bought myself a one-way ticket to starvation." 

Doc had his salary reduced to forty a week after that. 
But that didn't stop him from playing his role. Every 
afternoon, for instance, he dropped in for a spot of tea at 
the commissary. If any of us office boys were grabbing a 
cup of coffee we used to dread seeing him because it 
would mean the end of our service. Doc was the idol of 
the waitresses. The moment he crossed the threshold the 
girls would drop everything they were doing and race 
each other to the door for the privilege of waiting on him. 
He had a way of looking a girl up and down without 
making her feel cheap. He knew how to make them laugh, 
he knew how to charge the air about them with im- 
portance. He was sort of like King Midas, only instead of 
gold, everything he touched became dramatic. 

One girl in particular became one of the most important 
women in the world. She was a plump girl with large 
dimples. Her name was Emily. Emily hardly ever said 
anything. She was constantly singing snatches of popular 
songs absent-mindedly. 

"Oh, the merry go round broke down," she would sing. 
"What will you have?" 

"Hello, little pigeon," Doc said to her as he came in 
one day, "from the back I thought you were Lana Turner." 

"Sure," she said, "and I know you — Clark Gable." 

"Sit down and take a load off your mind," he said to 
her when she brought his tea. 

"Thanks," said Emily, "and do I need it! I got the 
jitters — don't tell anybody, but when I brought Mr. Small 
his lunch today, that little beetle made a pass at me." 

"Well, that's too bad," said Doc solicitously, "and Harry 
just married." 



THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 95 

"Because You're Mine/' Emily hummed. "He's had 
three of the girls fired already for turning him down flatter 
than a carpet." 

"Listen," said Doc, "if he tries anything again, let yours 
truly take care of it — tell him we're engaged." 

"You listen," Emily said, "in the first place, when you 
help a lady in distress, keep your eyes off her legs, and in 
the second place, you got your own job to worry about." 

"Baby," said Doc, "I got this job for life." 

"Yeah," she said as she picked his saucer up, "but this 
is one pen where they let you out for bad behavior." 

For a big, healthy girl, Emily was pretty psychic. It all 
began when Doc surpassed every former effort for taking 
care of it. Everybody on the lot was agog over the search 
for a brand new female personality to play in Harry's 
cavalcade, which was to be one generation longer than 
any cavalcade every filmed. The writers had concocted a 
central character that was expected to make Scarlett 
O'Hara look like Pollyanna. Harry Small said it was a 
star-making part, and so did everybody else after they 
heard him. 

Doc had read the script and was devoting all his ener- 
gies to casting the role of this heoine, Starr Maple. He 
even sent Harry Small a note telling him he thought he 
had a second cousin in East Orange, New Jersey, who 
would be perfect for it if she could only have her front 
teeth straightened. 

One day a gorgeous redhead walked in. She was stately 
and poised, and her features were classic but not stony. 
She was what every man thinks about for those one-way 
trips to desert islands. 

"I would like to see Mr. Small," she sighed. 
"Have you an appointment?" Doc asked. 
"It's about the role of Starr Maple," she explained. 
"Have you a girl in mind for the part?" Doc asked. 



96 



"I'm hoping to play it," she said. "My name is Rose- 
mary Laine." 

Doc looked her over from head to foot, especially foot. 

"Rosie," he said, "you look like too nice a girl to waste 
your time here. You don't seem to know anything about 
the Starr character. I've got the script right here. She's 
ten years older than you. She's a brunette — and very short, 
she has to be real short for a story point." 

"But — are you sure?" 

"Look at the last ten tests," said Doc authoritatively. 
"Frances Connell, Jerry Baretti, Mary Alister, all of them 
brunettes, in their late twenties and not one of them over 
five-two." 

"If my agent gave me a bum steer, I'll cut his throat," 
Miss Laine said sweetly. 

"You'd better go back and see him quick, sister," Doc 
advised. 

The next day Doc was called into Mr. Small's office. 

"Maybe I'm going up to a hundred a week," Doc said, 
as he went in. 

Judy opened her mouth and said absolutely nothing. 

Harry Small was slumped in his chair as if he were 
hiding from Doc under his enormous desk. Doc had never 
been in there before. He suddenly felt dwarfed, the way 
he had felt on the floor of Yosemite Valley. 

"Doc," said Harry tensely, "do you remember seeing a 
girl by the name of Rosemary Laine?" 

"Laine," said Doc musingly. "Sounds familiar." 

"I wish she were more familiar," Harry said. "Her 
agent promised she'd see me before she signed anywhere 
and Paramount nabbed her this morning. I just called 
him up and gave him hell for not sending her to me first 
and he tries to tell me he did — and she came back dis- 
couraged. Six weeks from starting date we let the perfect 
Starr Maple slip out of our fingers." 



THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 97 

"Starr Maple," said Doc. "The script says Starr is a 
little brunette and the Laine kid was a great big redhead/' 

Harry jumped to his feet. No prosecutor ever pointed a 
more accusing finger. "Then you did see her!" 

"Now that you mention it, I did," said Doc, a little 
less sure of himself. "She was here yesterday. But I could 
tell she wasn't the type and I didn't want to waste your 
time." 

"That's damned nice of you," Harry screamed. "The 
best bet of the year and you didn't want to waste my time 
with her! Maybe we were going to change the part to fit 
her! Maybe you should stop running my business. Why 
must this happen to me, Harry Small, who never did 
nothing to nobody!" 

"I'm sorry, Mr. Small," said Doc, "I won't do it again." 

"And I know why," said Harry. "Because you're fired. 
You're getting out of here. Tonight." 

Doc went back to his desk very quietly. He didn't even 
stop for his habitual gallantry to Judy. I noticed there was 
something wrong with him when I picked up the mail at 
his desk. He told me what had happened. It was tough. 
Doc loved that reception desk. I guess it was all the power 
he ever wanted in the world. 

I helped him clean out his desk. In the middle drawer 
there was a comb, some hair tonic, a hand mirror, a 
marked script of the disastrous cavalcade epic and a 
Motion Picture Almanac. He took his things out slowly, 
one by one, as if he never wanted to finish. 

"Maybe I should hang around a couple of days, to 
break the new man in," he said. 

"Where are you going from here?" I asked. 

"I don't know," he said. "South America, Australia — 
I've got a soldier's pension waiting for me there." 

A blonde woman with perfect skin and a placid, satisfied 
face came in. 



"Would you call Mr. Small for me," she said quietly. 

Doc fell into his act. "Have you an appointment?" he 
asked stiffly. 

"I'm Mrs. Small," she said. 

Doc jumped up from his desk and bowed. 

"Then you have an appointment," he said emphatically, 
"an appointment for life." He opened the door for her 
with a click of his heels. 

She swished through and Doc saw me watching him bow. 
He straightened up quickly and looked away. 

He just couldn't help going through with it, even when 
he was all washed up. 

Emily came through. She blew Doc a kiss. "See you in 
the morning, Doc," she trilled. 

"Good night, little pigeon," Doc said. 

"Oh, seven lonely days make one lonely week/' she 
hummed as she went out. 

Doc pulled out the bottom drawer and drew out a huge 
blue volume, The History of the Movies, and a lot of loose 
typewritten pages. 

"I was starting to write a book about Mr. Small," he ex- 
plained, "but now that I'm leaving so soon I guess I'll 
have to make it a short story." 

He was ready to go. 

"I still think that Rosemary Laine would have ruined 
Harry's picture," he said. "Someday maybe he'll call me in 
and thank me and give me back my job." 

I didn't hear a word about Doc after he walked out 
that night. The new man who took his place at the re- 
ception desk was efficient, and knew his place, which 
meant that all the fizz had gone out of the job. 

One day I was sent to deliver a message to Mr. Small's 
home in Bel Air. There is a big sign on Sunset, right on 
the corner of the road leading up to Mr. Small's, that 
reads, "Visit the Movie Stars." A man was barking through 
a megaphone to an insignificant young couple. The man 



THE FACE OF HOLLYWOOD 99 

was speaking to them as if they were a very large crowd. 

"Peek into the intimate nooks and crannies of Holly- 
wood," he was declaring. "Be the special guest of a man 
who knows Hollywood from the inside, who has actually 
decided the destinies of movie stars. See the glamorous 
homes of Betty Grable, Bob Taylor, the new Paramount 
star Rosemary Laine, and the famous Norman castle of 
my very good friend Harry Small. And if you have any 
questions, any little whim your Hollywood guide can sat- 
isfy, I'll take care of it." 

It was Doc! I jumped out of the car and rushed over to 
him. Before he could shake my hand he had to excuse him- 
self grandiloquently from his audience. 

"Doc — as I live, breathe and run errands," I said, "how 
long have you been doing this?" 

"Started yesterday," he said. "Had a long vacation, you 
know. Took me several months to decide on the proper 
vocation. But now I've really found it!" 

He had his important face on. "It's a job with a real 
responsibility," he continued. "As the first contact out- 
siders meet, I am the Face of Hollywood, as it were." 

As I drove off, he called to me, "Give my best to 
Harry," loud enough for his pale little couple to hear. 
"He's a swell little guy, but I'll never cast another picture 
for him as long as I live." 

Driving on up the canyon to Small's house, I couldn't 
make up my mind whether to envy or feel sorry for Doc. 
He was either one of the greatest dead-pan comics or one 
of the most comical tragedians of our time. Or maybe he 
was closer to it than I would ever realize, maybe he really 
was the Face of Hollywood. * 



100 



FOXHOLE IN WASHINGTON 



When Captain Schofield, a Signal Corps officer, and Lieu- 
tenant Colonel Pierce, just out of AMG school, first met 
each other, at one of the beverage bars in the Pentagon 
Building, they were just about to go overseas. Running 
into each other a few evenings later at the Mayflower 
Hotel was an occasion, the Lieutenant Colonel insisted, 
that called for a drink. 

"Well, are you all set, Colonel?" Schofield asked. 

"As ready as a sixteen-year-old bride," Pierce said. 

That was not the way Pierce normally talked, but ever 
since he had bought his uniforms he had felt he was on 
an outing. And now this going overseas any minute. It 
was the most exciting thing that had happened to him 
since he had hit one over the fence with three men on, 
for good old Washington U. of St. Louis, nearly thirty 
years before. He was a paunchy man with thinning gray 



A FOXHOLE IN WASHINGTON 101 

hair — the remains of a good-looking fellow, Captain Scho- 
field decided. Pierce ordered two old-fashioneds, one with- 
out sugar for himself. The without sugar was a concession 
to the rigors of Army life. While they were waiting for 
the drinks, Lieutenant Colonel Pierce revealed that he 
was an income-tax expert from St. Louis who was going 
to have something to do with finance in occupied terri- 
tory. He didn't tell Captain Schofield where he was going, 
exactly, and Schofield kept his destination hush-hush too. 
All they let each other know was that it was a matter of 
days now — minutes, maybe. And both of them under- 
stood, though they didn't tell each other, exactly, that 
their departure had something to do with the Main Show, 
as Pierce had heard it described by his BG in the Penta- 
gon. 

"Well, here's luck to you, sir," Schofield said when the 
drinks arrived. They clinked glasses 'with self-conscious 
ceremony. "That goes for you too, Captain," Pierce said. 
Every morning for twenty-five years he had gone down to 
the office at nine and come home at five-thirty and he 
wished his wife Agnes and the folks in St. Louis could 
see him now. Like in the movies. The last few drinks and 
jokes with a fellow-officer before going over and getting 
into it. 

Captain Schofield was a quiet, boyish man, a teacher in 
a boys' school in Massachusetts. He was reserved and un- 
emotional because his schools had taught him to be re- 
served and unemotional, but deep down he felt edgy about 
this overseas business too. That last-supper feeling. That 
last drink. 

That evening at the Mayflower the two men liked 
each other, or at least they liked the idea of each other. 
"A damn nice fellow," each one thought^and "God knows 
what the poor chap is getting in for." They drank with 
the proper note of gay desperation and everything that 
each of them had to say was of great interest to the other. 



102 



"Here's a toast to the Jap Navy," Schofield said when the 
waiter brought the second round of drinks. "Bottoms up!" 
He had picked that up from a group of women Marines 
at the table next to him in a restaurant the night before. 
Pierce repeated it, laughing. Schofield thought it was 
rather good too. After all, they were both leaving any 
moment for overseas. 

When they met in the Mayflower Lounge a few nights 
later it was a great joke. "Still here, Captain?" "Why, 
Colon 1 , I thought by this time you'd be God knows 
wher f They both laughed. The realization that this 
minute they might be having a drink together in a Wash- 
ington hotel, the next minute be dropped down in the 
middle of a war, was titillating. They had three or four 
drinks, toasting each other's forthcoming adventures again, 
and the Lieutenant Colonel began to observe the legs of 
the women coming down the steps. 

"How about those over there?" he said. "Those aren't 
too bad. Though god dammit, you don't see legs the way 
they ought to be any more! These little ones coming up 
look like they're set on bean poles. The way I like 'em is 
when you grab 'em above the knee you know you got 
something." 

Captain Schofield had never talked about women this 
way and he didn't like drunks, but this was all right, 
this was war, the way he had heard of it, and the Lieu- 
tenant Colonel, for all his vulgarity, was certainly a square 
shooter. They had another drink and when they said 
good-bye they both felt the seriousness of the gesture. 

"Well, old man, lots of luck to you again," Pierce said. 

"Thank you, Colonel. Maybe we'll run into each other 
on the other side sometime." 

Lieutenant Colonel Pierce was into his third old- 
fashioned when Captain Schofield showed up two evenings 
later. "Hello, Captain," said Pierce. "Haven't I seen you 



A FOXHOLE IN WASHINGTON 103 

somewhere before?" This time, when Schofield's drink 
arrived, they didn't bother with the toasts. 

"Well, any news?" Pierce said. 

"Something seems to be holding it up on the other 
end," Schofield said. "Should be coming through any day, 
though. How about you, Colonel?" 

"Oh, just the usual red tape, I guess. Ironing out 
wrinkles in AMG policy or something. Might take a few 
more days." 

The two officers looked at each other suspiciou' \ 

"Maybe they're saving us for the invasion," P* Ce sug- 
gested. 

"Or maybe they're saving the invasion for us," Schofield 
said. 

Pierce asked Schofield if he were married. Schofield 
said he was. "I've been hitched to the same woman for 
twenty-three years," Pierce announced. They didn't come 
any finer than Mrs. Pierce, he said. And his son, a shave- 
tail in the Marine Corps, was a regular chip off the old 
block. One of his daughters was married to an insurance 
man in Minneapolis who cleared fifteen thousand in '43. 
"Not that money means anything, the way this govern- 
ment is going." 

Pierce signaled to the waiter with his empty glass. "I 
tell you, Captain," he said, "I'm old enough to be your 
father, so I know what I'm talking about. No matter how 
much jack you've got in the bank you're a pauper if you 
haven't got the love of your own family." 

He reached into his billfold and pulled out a snapshot 
of a family group. Mrs. Pierce reminded Schofield of the 
typical Brookline matron. "Mrs. Pierce is a very handsome 
woman," he said, and held the photograph the polite 
length of time before handing it back. 

A Wac lieutenant appeared. She was small and rather 
plain, with a figure that was tidy if not pin-up. Pierce 



104 



studied it critically. "I hear these service gals around 
Washington don't mind giving it away if you're going 
overseas," he said. 

Captain Schofield smiled to show that he was one of 
the boys, but his mind was far away from Lieutenant 
Colonel Pierce and his observations on wartime morality. 
He was thinking about his wife, Mignon, in Greenmeadow, 
Massachusetts. He was wondering if perhaps he weren't 
going to be around long enough to make it worth-while 
for Mignon to come down and stay with him. Pierce was 
again talking about legs. A beribboned Free French officer 
with a slight, erect figure limped stylishly down the steps. 

"Sort of gives me a kick to see the Free French here in 
the Mayflower," Schofield said. 

"I still don't trust 'em," Pierce said. "From de Gaulle up 
or down." 

Schofield said nothing. He was not an argumentative 
man and things he felt strongly about he preferred not to 
discuss with Lieutenant Colonel Pierce. The future of the 
civilized world lies in our trusting those fellows and their 
trusting us, he thought. 

"Now that's the kind of legs I was talking about," 
said Pierce, eyeing a pair that were moving past the table. 

After a while, when Lieutenant Colonel Pierce and 
Captain Schofield kept on meeting at the Mayflower, they 
stopped joking about still being in Washington. They 
stopped talking about the war because they weren't heroes 
any more. They didn't talk politics because after all there 
was no sense getting into an argument. They just sat down 
with each other because people don't like to sit down alone 
these days and there weren't many other men in Washing- 
ton they knew to sit down with. Like a couple of fellows 
who find themselves thrown together in the same foxhole, 
Schofield thought. The Mayflower Lounge was a Washing- 






A FOXHOLE IN WASHINGTON 105 

ton foxhole papered with dollar bills, where officers going 
overseas any minute or any year were sweating out the war. 

"I know what let's do," Pierce said one evening after a 
longer silence than usual. "Let's play a game. I'll bet I 
can count six silver leafs entering this place before you 
count twelve bars. And the loser picks up the check." 

"Fine!" Schofield said. He thought of Mignon, pregnant 
in Greenmeadow, Massachusetts. He thought of the in- 
vasion and when it would open up and how much he 
wanted to be there in time for it, not because he aspired 
to heroism but because this was going to be the biggest 
fire the world had ever seen and men are still small boys 
chasing after fires. He wondered how much longer he 
would have to sit around the Mayflower while the or- 
chestra played something called "Mairzy Doats" and 
Lieutenant Colonel Pierce tossed off old-fashioneds with- 
out sugar and commented on the good legs and the bad 
legs passing back and forth. 

A youthful Air Force Captain with a string of ribbons, 
a young lady and a cane, appeared on the landing. Scho- 
field pulled out a pencil and drew a cross on his paper 
napkin. "That puts me in the lead," he said. "One to 
nothing, Colonel." 

The Colonel was watching the Wac lieutenant he had 
been eyeing for days. He rose so suddenly that he spilled 
a little of Schofield's drink into the captain's lap. 

"The hell with this," he announced. "I'm gonna go over 
and see if I can get into that Wac's drawers." 

For a moment, as the two men looked at each other, one 
of those private little wars within wars was being waged. 

"And the hell with you, Captain, you prim, pious son 
of a bitch," Pierce said. Then he straightened his uniform, 
making sure his home-front ribbons were in place, and 
walked away. 

Schofield checked an impulse to call after him, "I hope 



106 



I never see you again." Instead he toyed with his drink and 
thought of Mignon and the waiting French and the petty 
careering that would always blemish the nobility of war. 

"We'll win something out of this in spite of you, you 
silly bastard," he actually said under his breath. And then, 
feeling a little better, he ordered another drink and went 
on waiting. 



107 



THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 



No, nothing for me thanks. You boys go ahead, I'll just 
sit and talk with you a coupla minutes. Say, listen, I'm 
not on the wagon, I'm driving the God-damn thing. 
For life? If I wanna have any life left, the doc says. Yeah, 
ulcers. You know, the old belly bite. Oh that reminds me, 
I ain't had my milk yet today. That's a laugh, huh, 
Rocky Evans on the cow juice. Well let me tell you, chums, 
this here ulcer is no joke. I'd take cancer and seven points 
any day in the week. The hell it is my own fault. Well 
maybe I was pretty much of a sauce-hound in my day, 
but so was my old man, he still has to have his quart a 
day or he don't feel like he's accomplished anything. And 
you never seen an alter kocker in better shape than my 
old man. No boys, it ain't the amber that give me ulcers. 
It's the fight business. The aggravation. The mockies 
you got to deal with every day. The crooks all the time 
trying to pull a fast one on you, with one hand on your 



108 



shoulder and the other in your pocket. And the bums, oh 
Jesus, how I wish I had as much money as I can't stand 
them bums. They are so ignorant, so unsensitive, like a 
bunch of mules. No wonder I got the bite in the bread- 
basket, now, Rocky Evans, a man who went three years 
to high school, a fella what has associated with plenty of 
class people in my time, screwing around with a bunch of 
stumblebums. 

For instance, you want to know why I got ulcers, you 
take one of my bums, Tony Colucci, for instance. Every 
time I think of Tony, I want to get out of the fight 
business. There must be an easier way, I says to myself. 
You beat your brains out trying to make a dollar for 
yourself and your bum and what happens? Your bum 
turns out to be an ingrate who almost gets you run out of 
the business. Like this Tony Colucci I started to tell you 
about. The first time I caught Tony in the amateurs, it 
must be ten, twelve years ago, I almost broke a leg trying 
to beat the other managers back to the dressing room. 
Rocky, you old bastard I says to myself when the kid tells 
me nobody in the business has got to him yet, all aboard 
for the gravy train. He was a good-looking kid then, six- 
three or four, weighing around two-twenty, shoulders that 
went from here to over there, and not too heavy in the 
legs. It looked too good to be true. 

Yeah, and that's just the way it works out. I win a 
couple with Tony out of town, and then when I bring him 
in I shoot my mouth off all over the street how I got 
the coming world's champion, so what does Tony do to 
repay me? He gets himself knocked out in the first 
round. So it turns out all I got is another bum on my 
hands. One of those big clumsy guys with two left feet 
and a right hook that's so wild every time he throws it I 
expect to see him knock himself out. Sure, you'll hear a 
lot of fellas around here tell you that Tony was a great 
prospect and might of got somewhere if I hadn't brought 



THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 109 

him along too fast and thrown him in with Louis and 
Charles and boys like that before he was ready. But that 
is strictly b.s. The way I figure it, Tony was just one of 
those guys God put on this earth to be punished, I can't 
see no other reason, because Tony couldn't of beat boys 
like Joe and Ez if they was dying of old age. So maybe he 
was overmatched. Only it's like I say, a guy as dumb as 
Tony is born to be overmatched, and I don't see how it 
makes much difference whether he winds up on Queer 
Street next year, or the year after next. 

One thing I will say for Tony, he didn't seem to care 
how soon he got there. He would just get out there in 
the middle of the ring and lead with his jaw and stand 
there and grin and get his eyes cut and his lips split and 
his nose busted and keep on grinning until the other guy 
would finally take mercy on him and put him away. Oh 
what a bum! Sometimes I'd see the dames sitting ring- 
side holding their programs up in front of their faces 
because they couldn't stand the slaughter. Well there 
were plenty of times when I wanted to hide my face, too, 
only it wasn't because I was a sissy, it was because I was 
so ashamed at the disgrace of having to be known as the 
manager of such a poor excuse for a fighter. 

After a while I didn't have to worry very much about 
that, though, because I couldn't get matches for Tony 
any more. They said I'd have to wait for the next gener- 
ation of heavyweights to grow up so we'd have somebody 
new to beat us. So the only work I could get for Tony was 
sparring with some of the name boys in the gym, three, 
four dollars a round. A little tough on his profile, maybe, 
but pretty good money for Tony if he worked every day. 

That's where Tony was when I got my brainstorm, an 
inspiration I guess you'll have to call it, so when I tell 
you what happened you can see why I got so sore at the 
dope for almost throwing away the first chance we have 
to get ahold of a little folding money in over a year. 



110 



God-damn it, when I just think about it I get my bowels 
in such an uproar I . . . Hey, waiter, it's bad enough 
you got to drink milk without you should wait all day 
for it. 

Well, as I was saying, that was the year they was beating 
the drums for Chief Firebird, the Apache Assassin they 
were ballyhooing into a spot for the title match. The 
Chief had a couple of real money boys behind him with 
connections, but the best, and they were touring around 
the country, piling up a knockout record that would read 
good in the books and give the p.a.'s something to suck 
the public in on. 

So as soon as the idea hits me I hotfoot it over to see 
Bad News Harry Hoffman, who is one of the Chief's 
half a dozen managers. 

Harry and I have a powder together, for old times' 
sake, because we used to do quite a bit of business to- 
gether, and then another one and pretty soon we are 
feeling pretty chummy and I am ready to begin. 

"Harry," I says, "I hear where you are taking the Chief 
out to K.C. next month," I says. 

"Well," he says to me, "I been thinking about it, if I 
can make the right match." 

So I says, "How does the champeen of Italy sound?" I 
says. 

"The champeen of Italy," he says. "Who the hell is 
the champeen of Italy?" 

I look him straight in the eye and I says, "Tony 
Colucci," I says. 

"Tony Colucci," he says. "You mean that broken-down 
bum of yours? Since when has he been the champeen of 
Italy?" he says. 

"Since I sat down with you," I says. "Harry, we know 
each other too long to fart around. I am not one of these 
shyster managers who would rather make a crooked dime 
than an honest dollar. When you talk to Rocky Evans 



THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 111 

you know you are talking with a man of his word," I says. 

'Tut it to music and send it to me on a record," he 
says. But I know I've got him going. "Even the dopes 
will know he ain't the champeen of Italy," he says. 

Then I give him the convincer, I says, "Do you know 
who the champeen of Italy is?" I says. 

"Nah," he says. 

"Then how do you know it ain't Tony Colucci?" I 
says. I got him on the ropes now. He's weakening fast. 
"And if you, a smart guy in the business, don't know," I 
says, "how in Christ's sweet sake do you expect the dopes 
in K.C. to know the difference?" 

So we do business. Two-fifty for the fight and a G on 
the side to splash in the third round. I run right over to the 
gym to tell Tony the good news. Tony was stretched out 
on a rubbing table with his eyes closed. There was an egg 
over one eye and his kidneys looked like a rare cut of roast 
beef. "That new fella from Chicago was tryin' out his left 
hook," says the jig rubber. "From the way Tony drops, it 
looks like the fella is back workin' in the slaughter-house." 

"Tony'll feel better when he gets a load of the match I 
just made for him," I says, and I tell the rubber to park 
his fat ass somewhere else. Then I pull Tony up to a 
sitting position and rub the back of his neck to bring him 
around. He lets his legs dangle over the side of the table 
and holds his head in his hands. 

"Jesus," he says. "That sonofabitch can bang." 

"Cheer up, kid," I says. "We hit the jackpot again. 
Twelve hundred and fifty smackeroos to box Chief Fire- 
bird in K.C." 

"Twelve-fifty?" He raised his head slowly and looked 
up at me. I'm a sentimental bastard, I guess, but I couldn't 
help thinking how different he looked from the first 
time I seen him, back in the amateurs. He was a pretty 
good-looking kid then, high, straight nose, shiny, black 
eyes, always kind of, well, kind of proud-looking. Kind of 



112 



cocky, the way he carried himself, only not the kind to 
annoy you, cocky and quiet at the same time, like he was 
saying, Look, I don't want to sound like I'm boasting, it 
simply happens to be a fact that I am the next champ- 
een of the world. And I guess the dope really believed 
that too, before I brought him into town and he 
started kissing the canvas like it was his only girl. That 
Roman schnoz with the high bridge is fallen down now, 
he's got an ear on him that would look like a cauliflower 
even to a cauliflower and his eyes is sunken in and pulled 
back kind of Chink style the way most the boys' eyes 
get after they been in the business awhile. He is some- 
thing to scare babies with if I ever seen one. Only the in- 
side of his eyes is the same, the eyeballs, big and kind of 
moist-looking, and he's got a way of looking at you too long 
with them, sort of proud-like and melancholy that makes 
you want to look away. That's the way he was looking at 
me now when he says, "Twelve-fifty?" he says. "For twelve- 
fifty I gotta do tricks. What tricks I gotta do for twelve- 
fifty?" 

"A trick that is already second nature to you," I says. 
"All you got to do is look for a nice soft place to fall 
and take a little nap in the third," I says. 

Tony don't say nothing. "Twelve hundred and fifty 
bucks," I says. "A shyster manager would take two-thirds, 
but with Rocky Evans we split it down the middle. 
Twelve-fifty divided by two goes six, two into five is two 
and one over, two into ten is five even, leaves you six 
hundred and twenty-five fish," I says. 

Tony pulls off his trunks, his jock and his cup and 
throws them in the corner like he's sore. 

"Money talks," I says. "Even if you don't. Six hundred 
and twenty-five talkers." 

Tony picks a towel up off the floor and slings it over 
his shoulder. "Tell 'em to go stick it up," he says. 



THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 113 

"Tony," I says to him, "you remember me. This is 
Rocky Evans, your manager. That fella must of shook you 
up pretty bad." 

"He's got nothing to do with it," Tony says. "Go back 
and tell 'em they can shove it. Chief Firebird ain't going 
to knock me out," he says. 

He goes into the showers and I stand outside, yelling 
in, trying to put some sense into him. I says to him, I 
says, "Since when have you become a primy donna, you 
big bum? What record do you think you're protecting, for 
Christ's sweet sake? To hear you talk you never took a 
dive before. Why, you been in the tank so long you're 
starting to grow fins," I says. 

He just goes on taking his shower. Then when he steps 
out and starts to dry himself, he says, "I don't care what I 
done. I ain't going to take no dive for that overrated 
sonofabitch," he says. 

And you ask me why I got ulcers. That is the kind of 
aggravation you got to put up with from the punchy 
stumblebums in my business. "Look who's talking about 
what he is or ain't doing," I says. "Why, you big schlemoz- 
zel, you're lucky you got to eat. You was all washed up 
three years ago. If it wasn't you was tied up with a smart 
guy like me you wouldn't make six hundred and twenty- 
five dollars the rest of your life," I says. 

"I ain't going to let no overrated bum like this Chief 
Firebird knock me out," Tony says. 

Well there I was, up piss creek without a paddle. Of 
course there were other ways of handling it, I could slip 
Tony a mickey the day of the fight, but that's not the 
kind of fella I am. I been in this business almost twenny 
years and nobody ever tabbed me as a wrongo yet. 

So in mortification I go back to Bad News Harry Hoff- 
man. "Listen," I says to Harry, I says, "my bum, that 
Tony Colucci, I always thought he was slightly punchy, 



114 



but now he has gone a hundred per cent off his nut. He 
don't want any part of that extra G," I says. "He won't 
lay down," I says. 

Harry just yawns like he's bored. "Listen, Rocky," he 
says, "I'm a busy man. Chief Firebird ain't a fighter, he's 
a million-dollar corporation, and he's in my lap. All you 
gotta do is handle one punchy spar-boy. Go handle him," 
he says, like that's all there was to it. 

"But Harry," I says. "Believe me all of a sudden the 
boy's got a screw loose somewhere. Like a mule he's so 
stubborn, I never seen him like this before," I says. 

But Harry is not what I would call an understanding 
individual. "They are already putting up the billboards 
in K.C.," he says. "If that friggin' champeen of Italy of 
yours don't fold in three, this will not be a very healthy 
business for you," he says. 

So that's the way it is when we go into training and 
when I take Tony out to K.C. and Harry has the drums 
beat like I never seen them beat before, and all the papers 
is talking about how Tony Colucci, the Champeen of 
Italy, is the one remaining hurdle in the path of Chief 
Firebird, the Apache Assassin who threatens to do with 
his fists what his ancestors failed to do with bow and 
arrow, establish supremacy over the white race. You know, 
the jive. All this time I can feel my ulcers multiplying 
like rabbits because I do not know what is going on in 
the mind of the Champeen of Italy, and I think maybe 
this p. a. jive about his being the one remaining hurdle 
etcetera may be going to his head. And all the time we 
are in training nothing has been settled between he and I 
because I think maybe I will work a little of this here 
psychology on Tony, so I don't say nothing to Tony until 
the day before the fight, and then, when we are taking a 
little walk around the block after supper, I says to him 
quick-like, "Now look Tony, stay in close to him for two 
rounds and around the middle of the third stick your 



THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 115 

chin out a little and let him tag you with one, and, re- 
member, don't go down before he tags you like you done 
that time in Scranton, when they had to call the cops," I 
says. 

Tony just looks at me with them sad eyes of his and 
says, "I ain't going to take no dive for that overrated 
bum," he says. 

"Tony," I says, "for Christ's sweet sake, the fix is al- 
ready in. You got to take this dive. If you don't take this 
dive you might as well hang up your gloves. You'll never 
eat again. I promise you, you'll starve to death," I says, 
"if Bad News Harry Hoffman don't find a quicker way," 
I says. 

"I don't care what they do to me," Tony says. "I ain't 
going to take no dive for that overrated bum." 

"You dirty double-crossing no-good mother-lovin' bast- 
ard," I says. "So that's the gratitude I get for putting you in 
touch with a good thing. I could of got plenty other bums. 
I didn't have to pick you. I thought I was doing you a 
favor," I says. 

"Up your favors," Tony says. "I tell you I ain't going 
to take no dive." 

I am so mad I feel like I am busting a blood vessel. 
"And just what is so special about this dive, may I ask?" 
I says. 

"That Chief is a bum," Tony says. "I seen him work in 
the gym. He can't punch his way outa a paper bag," he 
says. 

"And just what has that got to do with our twelve- 
fifty?" I says. 

"He's a bum," Tony says. "He's a bigger bum 'n me. 
I'd feel like a God-damn fairy going in three. I wouldn't 
like for my girl to have to read about it," he says. 

"Your girl," I says, "is that all that's stopping you, 
your girl? You call that fugitive from a notch- joint your 
girl?" 



116 



"Evelyn is okay," he says. "Don't you go making no 
remarks about Evelyn." 

"Sure Evelyn is okay," I says. "But if I know Evelyn, 
and you come back with six hundred and twenty-five fish, 
she'll be able to stand the disgrace of how it looks in the 
papers." 

Then Tony says, "What's this bum got that I ain't 
got? If you'd a took me along slow and fed me a bunch of 
setups like they're doing with him, instead of letting them 
belt me out before I got started, maybe I could of made 
money like this for winning my fights instead of throwing 
them." 

That's what you're up against in this business, some 
back-knifing sonofabitch of a shyster manager always 
filling your boy full of wrong ideas. So I have all I can do 
to keep my patience, and I says to him, I says, "Listen, 
deadhead, let's not open up that can of tomato juice again. 
The question is, are you going to go in three tomorrow 
night or ain't you?" I says. 

"I ain't," Tony says. "I got my pride." 

Is that not but funny enough to be held over another 
week? "Your what?" I says. "You ought to get down on 
your knees and thank Christ you get your three squares 
and a mattress under you and you have to have pride 
yet?" I says. 

But the dope won't listen to reason. He won't lay down. 
It is enough to drive a nervous man to the laughing 
academy. Twenty-four hours before the fight and the fix 
is in and my bum won't co-operate. There is nothing to 
do but to go back to Harry Hoffman. He has the best lay- 
out in the place on the top floor. The room is full of ex- 
pensive cigar smoke coming from reporters and hot air 
coming from Bad News Harry. 

"Hello, Harry," I says. "I gotta talk to you." 

He looks at me like we are not even doing business to- 



THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 117 

gether. "Listen, Evans," he says, "if you came up to bet 
your man against mine, my price is still the same, nine to 
five." 

I think maybe everyone in the world is going crazy 
except me. Only maybe Harry is not so crazy. After the 
boys from the paper see that they have drunk all the 
amber and smoked all the Havana they are getting from 
Harry, they disappear, and Harry says to me, "For Christ's 
sake, Rocky, you ought to know better than that. Don't 
come in here and talk like we was brothers or sleeping 
together or something. You might as well come right out 
and tell them Tony Colucci is doing a swan in the third 
round tomorrow night." 

"But that's just the trouble," I says. "He ain't." 

Anybody else but Harry would of blown up, I guess. 
Maybe that's why Harry is a big shot and I got nothing 
out of the game but my bellyful of ulcers. I could see 
Harry was steamed, but he didn't throw a punch, he 
didn't even raise his voice at me. Getting sore is a luxury 
he didn't have time for, he says to me later, something 
fancy like that. All he says to me now is, "Send the boy 
to me," just, "Send the boy to me," like Lionel Barrymore 
playing the boss of a college or something. 

So I finally get Tony up to see him, and God knows 
what the hell they said to each other because Harry told 
me to go down to the bar and have myself a powder. 
About half an hour later Tony comes downstairs and I 
say, "What happened?" and he says, "He told me not to 
say," and I says, "Everything all right?" and he says, 
"That Mr. Hoffman is a pretty sharp fella." 

So I am as much in the dark as the paying customers 
until we get into the dressing room and Tony starts to 
get ready. Then he takes me aside and says, "Rocky, I 
want you to go out and get me a little piece of chicken 
wire," he says. 



118 



"What in hell do you want with chicken wire?" I says. 

"Get it," he says, like he was the manager and I was 
the bum. 

So a couple of minutes later I come back with the 
chicken wire. The semi-windup is on and they tell us to 
get ready to go in. 

"Now come into the can with me," Tony says, "and 
bring a pair of pliers." 

We crowd into the John together. "Now cut off a little 
piece," Tony says. 

"How small?" I says. 

"Small enough to fit into my mouth," Tony says. 

"What the hell?" I says. 

"Now slip the wire into something that will keep it 
from sliding out," Tony says. "A piece of rubber . . ." 

"Rubber," I says. "Wait a minute." I pull out my 
wallet. I always carry a couple along, just in case. "How's 
this?" I says. 

"Okay," he says, "now put the rubber up against my 
teeth, under the mouthpiece." 

So that's the way it is when the fight begins. I don't 
see what's cooking right away, but it's a little clearer the 
first time the Chief holds his left in Tony's face. The 
blood starts right away. It begins to trickle out of one 
corner of Tony's mouth. But it don't seem to bother 
Tony and he fights back. He is holding his own. He al- 
ways had a punch in his left hand and he lets it go a 
couple of times, spinning the Chief around. The cus- 
tomers stand up and yell. It looks like Tony can take 
him. The only trouble is that every time the Chief gets 
that left in Tony's face, there's more blood. By the end of 
the round he looks like he's been hit in the mush with a 
ripe tomato. It is dripping down his chin and onto his 
chest. The Chief don't even have to hit him. All he has 
to do is press that left glove against Tony's mouth and the 
chicken wire takes care of the rest. 



THE PRIDE OF TONY COLUCCI 119 

I do what I can to stop the cuts between rounds, but 
they are up on the gums and tough to get at. The first 
jab starts them going again. Tony makes the Chief grunt 
with that left to the belly but the blood is beginning to 
bother him now. It pours out of his mouth like a faucet 
and it begins to look like he's ducked his head in it be- 
cause the Chief's gloves smear his mouth across his face. 
After a while his mouthi and the Chief's glove are so 
soggy it makes a squashy sound when they come together. 
But Tony keeps boring in, spraying the ref and the press- 
row seats with blood every time he swings. 

When he comes back to his corner I says, "How you 
feel, Tony boy?" and he just shakes his head, he can't 
say nothing, he's swallowed so much blood. There's noth- 
ing much we can do for him now, and when the boys come 
up for round three Tony is bleeding so bad some of the 
ringsiders start to yell, "Stop the fight, stop the fight." I 
find out later Harry has them planted there for that, but 
he could of saved his dough, for them people don't need 
nobody to start them yelling, the referee's white shirt 
looked like it was dyed red, Tony was slowing up a little 
and the Chief was whipping hard lefts and rights to the 
mouth until it was flowing like a bloody fountain. Pretty 
soon everybody in the house was up on their feet yelling 
"Stop the fight, stop the fight," and finally the refstepped 
in between them and raised the Chief's arm. 

Tony was pretty sick from swallowing all that blood, 
but the crowd gave him a better hand when he left the 
ring than the Chief himself and he mitted them and 
grinned and I guess he felt pretty good until the excite- 
ment wore off. I had the doc take a hinge at that mouth 
when we got back to the dressing room and I never saw 
anything like it in my life, the gums was all ripped to 
shreds like it was so much hamburger. 

Well we had to have the doc come back about three 
o'clock in the morning, superficial hemorrhage I guess 



120 



you call it, and next morning when Tony woke up his 
kisser was out like one of these Ubangis. He sounds like 
he's talking with a sponge in his mouth and it looks like 
he'll be eating out of a straw the rest of his life, but 
right away he wants to see the papers. He reads the first 
write-up and starts to grin and sends me for a razor so he 
can save it for his scrapbook. 

"For Christ's sweet sake," I says, "if you ain't got no 
scruples about throwing the fight, why you should let him 
cut your mouth to ribbons for three rounds when you 
could just sink down to the canvas without even scraping 
an elbow is a mystery to me." 

Tony just went on cutting out the clipping. "For three 
rounds last night," this here article says, 

Tony Colucci absorbed a terrible beating from Chief Firebird, 
the heavyweight contender. But Tony carried the fight to the 
winner all the way and was still gamely on his feet when the 
referee stepped between them to save the gallant Colucci from 
further punishment. 

"You don't understand," Tony says to me. 

"Understand," I says. "You'd have to be crazy in the 
head to understand a choice like that." 

And you ask me why I got ulcers? A punchy stumble- 
bum almost getting me run outa the business and then 
letting them tear his mouth to shreds when he could 
stretch out on that canvas nice and comfortable like he 
was home in bed. All I can say is, if you can figure that 
one out, you're a better man than I arn. Well, thanks 
boys, now that I got the milk down, I guess a little one 
won't hurt me. . . . 



121 



A NOTE ON THE 
LITERARY LIFE 



Kenneth Channing Baxter studied the young man who 
had answered his ad in The Saturday Review. He not only 
studied him but was conscious of doing so, for as readers 
of Kenneth Channing Baxter's famous novels knew, KCB 
was a great student of human nature. An adulatory profile 
in a national magazine had quoted the great man as 
saying that his vocation was also his avocation, for "I have 
a passion for studying people — reading their faces, their 
gestures, their silences; my fellow-man never ceases to 
fascinate, challenge and amuse me." 

That was a characteristic observation of KCB's. His 
first novel had been an instantaneous success when he was 
only twenty-eight and for the past several decades he had 
failed only once in his admirable ambition to "give my 
public a novel every two years." 

"In this most uncertain of enterprises," his happy pub- 



122 



lisher was fond of saying, "a Baxter novel is one of the 
few sure things. He's America's answer to Somerset 
Maugham." 

America's answer leaned back in his dark-red leather 
writing chair, tenderly caressing the rich brown bowl of 
his Dunhill, and smiled reservedly on the young man who 
wished to become his secretary. It was a smile such as is 
sometimes seen on a sleek, well-cared-for cat while re- 
garding the mouse she has trapped but has not yet 
molested. 

In this case the mouse, or, rather, the young man was a 
decidedly unprepossessing creature. He was slight and 
pale and chinless and he wore an unpressed thirty- 
dollar suit bought in a small-town store on the occasion of 
his graduation from college. It was not even what Baxter 
would consider one of the real colleges — he was a Williams 
man himself, but one of his sons was at Princeton and 
the other was prepping at Lawrenceville. The young man 
was a graduate of the local state teachers' college, where 
he had done some proctoring while getting his master's 
in English literature. He seemed rather nervous, and in 
the course of Baxter's direct and somewhat blunt ques- 
tioning (KCB prided himself on his "frankness") the young 
man would lick his lips and blink his eyes. He also, 
Baxter detected, had a tendency to stammer. 

Baxter had doubts about him. Even the name, Sheldon 
Dicks, seemed a little odd and unworldly. A young lady 
from Bryn Mawr had impressed the author as far more 
efficient and presentable — a bit too much of the latter, in 
fact, and for that reason Baxter had passed her over. He 
had his own writing house directly on the lake, several 
hundred yards removed from the main house, and since 
it was sometimes his habit to dictate at night, neighbors 
might talk. People in the limelight were invariably vic- 
timized by vicious gossip. If he had had more time he 
would have liked to interview some others — but he was 



A NOTE ON THE LITERARY LIFE 123 

in something of a jam at the moment. His most recent 
novel, My Father's House, had not only soared right to 
the top of the best-seller lists, but had received an in- 
ordinate amount of critical acclaim. Reviewers were call- 
ing it "the most mature work this penetrating craftsman 
has given us." There were fan letters to answer, at the 
rate of about twenty a day, Baxter told the young man. 
And there were telephone calls. The young man would 
have to use his ingenuity in separating the nuisance calls 
from the real thing. And there was the lecture and public- 
appearance calendar to be kept up. And callers to be pro- 
tected from — autograph hounds, publicity seekers, job 
wanters, salesmen, charity solicitors. "They would all crawl 
in and carry me off in little pieces if we didn't keep a 
strong bolt on the door." 

Sheldon Dicks bore little resemblance to a strong bolt, 
but he said he would try. Baxter told his new secretary 
that it would also be his responsibility to see that the 
writing table was supplied with paper, typewriter ribbons, 
pencils, erasers and the like. "Two dozen pencils 
sharpened to a fine point ready at nine each morning — 
that has been my rule for over twenty years," said Kenneth 
Channing Baxter. The young man said, Very well, he 
would attend to all these details so capably that the 
illustrious author would be free to concentrate exclusively 
on the plot, theme and characters of his work in progress. 

"And then there are the archives," the novelist said. 
"The Princeton Library has set aside a Baxter Room where 
all of my manuscripts, proofs, correspondence, reviews, 
notebooks and clippings are being collected. So you will 
also be in charge of what I immodestly call the Posterity 
Department." 

Sheldon Dicks promised to take charge of Baxter's 
posterity. 

"Now one final word," Baxter said in his fame-weary 
voice. "I see in your references here that you have pub- 



124 



lished a few poems and things in college magazines. One 
of the banes of my career is the budding, would-be, never- 
will-be writer. Friends who beg me to look over the first 
three chapters of their young nephew's novel. Young men 
who write that they want nothing from me but half an 
hour of advice. Everybody in this world seems to have a 
manuscript. There's a literary diamond in the rough be- 
hind every bush and under every bed, so to speak . . ." 

Sheldon Dicks observed that this sort of mixed metaphor 
was not unknown to Baxter's prose style, but his face 
remained expressionlessly earnest, a weapon of passive 
resistance he had developed to balance his sensitivity to 
incompetent or graceless speech and text. 

" — so," Baxter was continuing, "if you have any literary 
ambitions, if you aspire to be another T. S. Eliot or 
William Faulkner or even poor K. C. Baxter, I say that is 
splendid — provided you do not cultivate this ambition on 
my time or with my knowledge. In other words, no 
grubby little manuscripts shoved under my nose with a 
sniveling 'If you like this enough I wondered if you'd be 
good enough to show it to your publisher.' " 

Sheldon Dicks did have a manuscript, a number of 
them, in fact, and he couldn't help wondering how 
Kenneth Channing Baxter had got his start. Had he sprung 
fully blown as a famous novelist out of some publisher's 
brain? But he put the question and the impertinence 
out of his mind. A room of his own in the writing 
cottage and seventy-five dollars per week seemed a per- 
fectly good reason for saying, "I promise not to inflict 
any manuscripts on you, Mr. Baxter." 

Somewhat to Baxter's surprise, Sheldon Dicks turned 
out to be the most satisfactory secretary ever in his employ. 
He was efficient. He was unobtrusive. He was resource- 
ful. He was able to answer the fan mail without even 
bothering to consult the author. And Baxter had to admit 
that the letters were every bit as good as if he had com- 



4 



A NOTE ON THE LITERARY LIFE 125 

posed them himself. Before the end of the first year 
young Dicks, on his own initiative, was writing Baxter's 
lectures for him, and even magazine articles. It rather 
gave Baxter a start to be told by a friend of his at the 
Lotus Club that his article on "What I Think of Our 
Younger Novelists" was one of the finest bits of critical 
work the author had done. "Quite frankly, old boy," his 
friend had said with an ingenuous twinkle, "I was be- 
ginning to think you were going to seed, but this piece 
proves you have wit and vitality and ideas to spare." 

In addition, Sheldon Dicks had rare gifts as a typist. 
In the course of transcribing a Baxter manuscript, he 
would tighten the sentences, improve the syntax, judi- 
ciously change a word or sharpen a phrase, so that when 
the finished copy was submitted to Baxter's publishers, 
the editor wrote that he was happy to see that "the old 
master, like fine wine, is definitely improving with age." 

One day after Sheldon Dicks had been with Baxter for 
a number of years and was so firmly established in the 
Baxter menage that he was referred to by Mrs. Baxter 
and the household staff as "The Shadow," he came into 
the author's study to inform his lord that it was time to 
dress for his radio interview and that he had a few 
letters to be signed. They made a rather nice composition, 
Baxter thought, the author in his dark-green smoking 
jacket against the wine-red leather of the writing chair 
and the mild-mannered ghost of a secretary bending over 
him in attentive submission. As Baxter signed the first 
letter, thanking a reader for calling him "his favorite 
writer since Galsworthy," an impulse prompted him to 
realize that in all these years, nearly seven it was now, 
Sheldon Dicks had never volunteered an opinion of any 
one of the three novels he had typed and proofread so 
conscientiously. 

"By the way, Sheldon," Baxter said without looking 
up, "what do you think of the new book?" 



126 



Sheldon Dicks's sensitive, birdlike face betrayed no 
emotion. "I don't feel it my place to comment, sir," he 
said. 

Baxter frowned. "But after all, Sheldon, we're — we're 
more than author and secretary now. I would say we've 
gotten to be friends." 

It was true that Baxter had advanced Dicks as much as 
five hundred dollars on occasion, to meet such emergen- 
cies as the death of his mother and the collapse of one 
lung. And during the last year or so, Baxter had fallen 
into the habit of lunching with Dicks at the cottage, dur- 
ing which time he would relax from the rigors of his 
work by chatting with Dicks of politics, the state of 
literature, modern art, the aerial ruts of television and 
other subjects of the moment. Often he found that Dicks's 
ideas and phrases could be fitted quite neatly into his own 
work in progress. "Dicks has a nice mind," Baxter had 
conceded to his wife. "I would sooner talk with him than 
with half the writers and publishers I know." 

So now Baxter looked up at his secretary and repeated his 
question. "Seriously, Sheldon, what is your honest opinion 
of Moondays?" When he noticed the younger man's hesi- 
tation, he added, "Go ahead, I won't bite your head off. 
I'm not insisting you tell me it's better than War and 
Peace." 

The wisp of humor seemed wasted on the young man. 
"Mr. Baxter, if you don't start now, you'll be late for 
your broadcast." 

"Oh, bother the broadcast — I'll make it. Lloyd drives 
as if he's in the 500 at Indianapolis. But tell me now, I 
insist" — for suddenly he had to know — "what do you 
think of Moondays? And Father's House? And Second 
Harvest? And — what is your opinion of the body of my 
work? Of my place, shall we say, in American letters?" 

There was a long and (what used to be called) preg- 
nant pause. 



A NOTE ON THE LITERARY LIFE 127 

"Mr. Baxter, since you insist on my telling you this — I 
do not think you have any place in American letters." 

On Kenneth Channing Baxter's face there was no mark, 
but the look was that of a man who has been sharply 
flicked by a leather whip. 

"My dear boy . . ." 

"I think you are the most overrated writer in America 
today," the words of Sheldon Dicks poured through the 
vents that suddenly had been opened after having been 
sealed for years. "Every age has its forgotten heroes and 
its renowned nonentities. Their span is their own life- 
time or a part of it and they flash in it with the spec- 
tacular impermanence of fireflies. When Melville was a 
neglected customs inspector, for instance, there were a 
whole covey of lady writers being discussed in the serious 
reviews as if they were the female counterparts of Tol- 
stoy and Turgenev." 

Except for the fact that his teeth clenched around the 
bit of his pipe more severely than usual, Baxter managed 
to look like the poised, confident man of letters who has 
received not one but a brace of Pulitzer Prizes. 

"At least I admire your frankness. Naturally your — uh 
— subnormal estimate of my literary powers will not 
have the slightest bearing on our professional relation- 
ship." 

Kenneth Channing Baxter believed that and thought of 
himself as adhering to this principle scrupulously. A few 
months later, when he found it necessary to dispense with 
the services of Sheldon Dicks, it was — he believed — for 
quite a different reason. It was for failure, after several 
warnings, to have the L key repaired on Baxter's favorite 
typewriter. The author's fourteenth novel had just been 
designated merely an alternate book-club selection and 
this, on top of Dicks's negligence in regard to the L key, 
had been just too much. After nearly seven years of con- 
scientious and ghostlike servitude, Sheldon Dicks had 



128 



been pushed out of the Baxter nest and into the wide, 
wide world. 

He did not remain there long. A year later he was in 
Arizona with spots on his lung and the year after that he 
was dead. A five-line obituary in the Times notified its 
readers that the deceased had served as private secretary 
to the eminent author Kenneth Channing Baxter. 

Whether or not the dismissal and passing away of 
Sheldon Dicks had anything to do with the decline of 
Baxter is one of those intangibles forever to be argued. 
But Baxter's next novel was not even a book-club alter- 
nate, and the one that followed was rather generally 
ridiculed as old-fashioned and contrived. Baxter went on 
grinding out novels, but the tide had turned, and he was 
left floundering in the wake of others' success. Most of the 
reviewers who had lavished columns of print on the new 
Galsworthy and the American Maugham were dead or 
retired. A whole new generation of critics placed Baxter 
somewhere between Zane Grey and Oliver Kirkwood. To 
add to Baxter's plight, his money ran out, a fate not un- 
common to the fortunes of the get-famous-quick in Amer- 
ica. In anticipation of recapturing his lost public he had 
continued to live in the grand manner with his lake, his 
private writing house, his green rolling lawns, his great 
parties and the expensive Mrs. Baxter, long after his 
books had failed to sustain this sort of living. At last he 
had to sell, for a fraction of its value, his charming land- 
mark, Rolling Brook. He was faced with the prospect of 
living out his days ingloriously on a modest annuity. 

One Sunday a few months after Mrs. Baxter had passed 
on, KCB walked around the corner from his small Green- 
wich Village apartment to pick up the morning papers. 
As had been his habit for some thirty years, he fingered 
through the bulky Sunday sections until he found the 
book review. On the front page was a two-column cut of 
a face he had hardly thought about in recent years. 



A NOTE ON THE LITERARY LIFE 129 

Sheldon Dicks's. A banner line asked a provocative ques- 
tion: "An American Rimbaud?" A review by a distin- 
guished English poet welcomed "to the thin ranks of 
first-line American writers a new poet of such brilliance, 
intensity, originality and depth as to suggest — but in no 
way imitate — the erratic French genius of Rimbaud." 

Wandering along the street in an uneasy trance, Baxter 
read the strange facts behind the publication of Dicks's 
long narrative poem, "A Mass for the Living Dead." 
When Dicks had died in obscurity on a ranch in Arizona, 
he had left a request in writing that all his papers should 
be burned. But a high-school English teacher who had 
become his friend in the closing days of his life had been 
so impressed by the manuscript that he had not had the 
heart to carry out Dicks's instructions. After several years 
of soul-searching, the English teacher had written in his 
introduction, he had decided that a higher conscience 
demanded his giving Dicks's long poem to the world. 

From his obscure window, Baxter watched incredu- 
lously as the circle of fame spread ever wider around 
the shadowy figure of his former employee. T. S. Eliot 
delivered a paper at Harvard on "God and Gods in 
Sheldon Dicks." In one feverish fall season there were no 
fewer than three learned, obscure critiques on Sheldon 
Dicks ( The Worlds of Sheldon Dicks; Sheldon Dicks: An 
Exploration of Myth as Metaphor; Underground Stream: 
Ethos and Decalogue in Sheldon Dicks.) The Atlantic 
Monthly ran a symposium on Sheldon Dicks and new 
young poets were accused of trying to write like Sheldon 
Dicks and Sheldon Dicks's "symbolistic" view of society 
became the fashionable one for literary undergraduates. 
Some young Americans on the Left Bank shaved their 
beards and cropped their hair in imitation of Sheldon 
Dicks. There had been nothing like it since the Kafka 
boom. 

Rummaging through his file for some odd pieces of 



130 



writing that might be fed into the all but dried up stream 
of his magazine market, Baxter found a few lines scrib- 
bled in the margin of an abandoned first chapter of a 
forgotten novel. "PL nt. sug. ch. w'l tp tn S.D." he read. 
It brought back to Kenneth Channing Baxter a lost 
moment from his old world of fame and prosperity when 
a mousy underling, in line of duty, had scribbled some- 
thing Baxter would interpret as, "Please note suggested 
changes. Will type tonight. Sheldon Dicks." 

At a fashionable rare-book store on 57th Street a dis- 
tinguished-looking relic from the nineteenth century 
studied through his pince-nez the scribbled notation. 
Then, deliberately, he compared it with a letter written 
in the precious hand of Sheldon Dicks. "Yes, yes, this 
would seem to be quite genuine," he assured the old man 
in the worn, expensively cut tweeds. "Signed only with 
his initials and not with the full name it would be worth" 
— quickly he consulted an open catalogue — "shall we say, 
fifty dollars." 

Baxter was glad to get the money. His annuity was 
small, and he was making out by disposing of odds and 
ends, first editions, paintings and the like. As he drifted 
toward the entrance, the title of a book on the first 
counter caught his eye: American Writers: 1900-1952. 

With the incurable vanity of the once famous he could 
not resist riffling the index to see if his name was still 
included. Ah, there it was: "Baxter, Kenneth Channing, 
67." As quickly as possible he turned to his page and read: 

Baxter, Kenneth Channing; popular writer of 20's and 30's. 
Better known as employer of Sheldon Dicks. See Sheldon Dicks. 



131 



MY CHRISTMAS CAROL 



When I was a little boy, I lived with my parents in what 
was then a small suburb of Los Angeles called Hollywood. 
My father was general manager in charge of production 
for Firmament-Famous Artists-Lewin. It was a mouthful, 
but I used to have to remember the whole thing for the 
your-father-my-father arguments I was always having with 
a kid down the block whose old man was only an associate 
producer at Warner Brothers. 

One of the things I remember most about Firmament- 
Famous Artists-Lewin was the way that studio and 
Christmas were all mixed up together in my mind. My 
earliest memory of the Christmas season is associated with 
a large studio truck, bearing the company's trademark, 
that always drove up to the house just before supper 
on Christmas Eve. I would stand outside the kitchen door 
with my little sister and watch the driver and his helper 



132 



carry into our house armload after armload of wonderful 
red and green packages — all for us. Sometimes the gleam- 
ing handlebars of a tricycle or the shiny wheels of a min- 
iature fire engine would break through their bright wrap- 
pers, and I'd shout, "I know what that is!" until my 
mother would lead me away. Santa Claus still had so 
many houses to visit, she'd say, that I mustn't get in the 
way of these two helpers of his. Then I'd go down the 
street to argue the respective merits of our two studios 
with the Warner Brothers kid, or pass the time torment- 
ing my little sister, perfectly content in the thought that 
the Firmament-Famous Artist-Lewin truck was the stand- 
ard vehicle of transportation for Santa Claus in semitrop- 
ical climates like Southern California. 

On Christmas morning I had the unfortunate habit of 
rising at five o'clock, rushing across the hallway to my 
sister's room in annual disobedience of my mother's re- 
quest to rise quietly, and shouting, "Merry Christmas, 
Sandra! Let's wake Mommy and Daddy and open our 
presents." 

We ran down the hall into the master bedroom with 
its canopied twin beds. "Merry Christmas!" we shouted 
together. My father groaned, rolled over and pulled the 
covers further up over his head. He was suffering the after- 
effects of the studio's annual all-day Christmas party from 
which he hadn't returned until after we had gone to 
sleep. I climbed up on the bed, crawling over him, and 
bounced up and down, chanting, "Merry Christmas, 
Merry Christmas. . . ." 

"Oh-h-h ..." Father said, and flipped over on his 
belly. Mother shook his shoulder gently. "Sol, I hate to 
wake you, but the children won't go down without you." 

Father sat up slowly, muttering something about its be- 
ing still dark outside and demanding to know who had 
taken his bathrobe. Mother picked it up where he had 



MY CHRISTMAS CAROL 133 

dropped it and brought it to him. It was black and white 
silk with an elegant embroidered monogram. 

"The kids'll be opening presents for the next twelve 
hours," my father said. "It seems God-damn silly to start 
opening them at five o'clock in the morning." 

Downstairs there were enough toys, it seemed, to fill all 
the windows of a department store. The red car was a 
perfect model of a Pierce-Arrow, and probably only 
slightly less expensive, with a green leather seat wide 
enough for Sandra to sit beside me, and real headlights 
that turned on and off. There was a German electric 
train that passed through an elaborate Bavarian village in 
miniature. And a big scooter with rubber wheels and a 
gear shift just like our Cadillac's. And dozens more that 
I've forgotten. Sandra had a doll that was a life-size 
replica of Baby Peggy, which was Early Twenties for 
Margaret O'Brien, an imported silk Hungarian peasant 
costume from Lord & Taylor, a six-ounce bottle of 
French toilet water, and so many other things that we all 
had to help her unwrap them. 

Just when we were reaching the end of this supply, 
people started arriving with more presents. That's the 
way it had been every Christmas since I could remember, 
men and women all dressed up dropping in all day long 
with packages containing wonderful things that they'd 
wait for us to unwrap. They'd sit around a while, laugh- 
ing with my mother and father and lifting from James 
the butler's tray a cold yellow drink that I wasn't allowed 
to have, and then they'd pick us up and kiss us and tell 
us we were as pretty as my mother or as intelligent as 
my father and then there would be more laughing and 
hugging and hand-shaking and God bless you and then 
they'd be gone, and others would arrive to take their 
place. Sometimes there must have been ten or twenty all 
there at once and Sandra and I would be sort of sorry in 



134 



a way because Mother and Father would be too busy with 
their guests to play with us. But it was nice to get all 
those presents. 

I remember one tall dark man with a little pointed 
mustache who kissed Mother's hand when he came in. 
His present was wrapped in beautiful silvery paper and 
the blue ribbon around it felt thick and soft like one of 
Mother's evening dresses. Inside was a second layer of 
thin white tissue paper and inside of that was a hand- 
some silver comb-and-brush set, just like my father's. 
Tied to it was a little card that I could read because it 
was printed and I could read almost anything then as 
long as it wasn't handwriting: "Merry Christmas to my 
future boss from Uncle Norman." 

"Mommy," I said, "is Uncle Norman my uncle? You 
never told me I had an Uncle Norman. I have an Uncle 
Dave and an Uncle Joe and an Uncle Sam, but I never 
knew I had an Uncle Norman." 

I can still remember how white and even Norman's 
teeth looked when he smiled at me. "I'm a new uncle," 
he said. "Don't you remember the day your daddy 
brought you on my set and I signed your autograph book 
and I told you to call me Uncle Norman?" 

I combed my hair with his silver comb suspiciously. 
"Did you give me this comb and brush . . . Uncle Nor- 
man?" 

Norman drank down the last of the foamy yellow stuff 
and carefully wiped off his mustaches with his pale-blue 
breast-pocket handkerchief. "Yes, I did, sonny," he said. 

I turned on my mother accusingly. "But you said Santa 
Claus gives us all these presents." 

This all took place, as I found out later, at a crucial 
moment in my relationship with S. Claus, when a child's 
faith was beginning to crumble under the pressure of 
suspicions. Mother was trying to keep Santa Claus alive 
for us as long as possible, I learned subsequently, so that 



MY CHRISTMAS CAROL 135 

Christmas would mean something more to us than a dis- 
play of sycophancy on the part of Father's stars, directors, 
writers and job-seekers. 

"Norman signed his name to your comb and brush be- 
cause he is one of Santa Claus's helpers," Mother said. 
"Santa has so much work to do taking care of all the 
good little children in the world that he needs lots and 
lots of helpers." 

My father offered one of his long, fat cigars to 
"Uncle" Norman and bit off the end of another one for 
himself. 

"Daddy, is that true, what Mommy says?" I asked. 

"You must always believe your mother, boy," my fa- 
ther said. 

"I've got twenty-eleven presents already," Sandra said. 

"You mean thirty-one," I said. "I've got thirty-two." 

Sandra tore open a box that held an exquisite little 
gold ring, inlaid with amethyst, her birthstone. 

"Let me read the card," I said. " 'Merry Christmas, 
Sandra darling, from your biggest fan, Aunt Ruth.' " 

Ruth was the pretty lady who played opposite Uncle 
Norman in one of my father's recent pictures. I hadn't 
been allowed to see it, but I used to boast to that Warner 
Brothers kid about how much better it was than anything 
Warners' could make. 

Sandra, being very young, tossed Aunt Ruth's gold ring 
away and turned slowly in her hand the little box it had 
come in. "Look, it says numbers on it," she said. "Why are 
the numbers, Chris?" 

I studied it carefully. "Ninety-five. That looks like dol- 
lars," I said. "Ninety-five dollars. Where does Santa 
Claus get all his money, Daddy?" 

My father gave my mother a questioning look. "Er . . . 
what's that, son?" I had to repeat the question. "Oh . . . 
those aren't dollars, no . . . That's just the number Santa 
puts on his toys to keep them from getting all mixed up 



136 



before he sends them down from the North Pole," my 
father said, and then he took a deep breath and another 
gulp of that yellow drink. 

More people kept coming in all afternoon. More pres- 
ents. More uncles and aunts. More Santa Claus's helpers. 
I never realized he had so many helpers. All afternoon 
the phone kept ringing, too. "Sol, you might as well an- 
swer it, it must be for you," my mother would say, and 
then I could hear my father laughing on the phone: 
"Thanks, L.B., and a merry Christmas to you . . . 
Thanks, Joe . . . Thanks, Mary . . . Thanks, Doug 
. . . Merry Christmas, Pola ..." Gifts kept arriving late 
into the day, sometimes in big limousines and town cars, 
carried in by chauffeurs in snappy uniforms. No matter 
how my father explained it, it seemed to me that Santa 
must be as rich as Mr. Zukor. 

Just before supper, one of the biggest stars in Father's 
pictures drove up in a Rolls Royce roadster, the first one 
I had ever seen. She came in with a tall, broad-shouldered, 
sunburned man who laughed at anything anybody said. 
She was a very small lady and she wore her hair tight 
around her head like a boy's. She had on a tight yellow 
dress that only came down to the top of her knees. She 
and the man she was with had three presents for me and 
four for Sandra. She looked down at me and said, "Merry 
Christmas, you little darling," and before I could get 
away, she had picked me up and was kissing me. She 
smelled all funny, with perfumy sweetness mixed up with 
the way Father smelled when he came home from that 
Christmas party at the studio and leaned over my bed 
to kiss me when I was half asleep. 

I didn't like people to kiss me, especially strangers. 
"Lemme go," I said. 

"That's no way to act, Sonny," the strange man said. 



MY CHRISTMAS CAROL 137 

"Why, right this minute every man in America would like 
to be in your shoes." 

All the grownups laughed, but I kept squirming, trying 
to get away. "Aw, don't be that way, honey," the movie 
star said. "Why, I love men!" 

They all laughed again. I didn't understand it so I 
started to cry. Then she put me down. "All right for 
you," she said, "if you don't want to be my boy friend." 

After she left, when I was unwrapping her presents, I 
asked my father, "Who is she? Is she one of Santa Claus's 
helpers, too?" Father winked at Mother, turned his head 
away, put his hand to his mouth and laughed into it, 
but I saw him. Mother looked at him the way she did 
when she caught me taking a piece of candy just before 
supper. "Her name is Clara, dear," she said. "She's one 
of Santa Claus's helpers, too." 

And that's the way Christmas was, until one Christmas 
when a funny thing happened. The big Firmament- 
Famous Artists-Lewin truck never showed up. I kept 
looking for it all afternoon, but it never came. When it 
got dark and it was time for me to have my supper and 
go to bed and still no truck, I got pretty worried. My 
mind ran back through the year trying to remember some 
bad thing I might have done that Santa was going to 
punish me for. I had done lots of bad things, like slap- 
ping my sister and breaking my father's fountain pen, 
but they were no worse than the stuff I had pulled the 
year before. Yet what other reason could there possibly 
be for that truck not showing up? 

Another thing that seemed funny about that Christmas 
Eve was that my father didn't bother to go to his studio 
Christmas party. He stayed home all morning and read 
aloud to me from a Christmas present he let me open a 
day early, a big blue book called Typee. And late that 



138 



night when I tiptoed halfway down the stairs to watch 
my mother trim the tree that Santa was supposed to dec- 
orate, my father was helping her string the colored lights. 
Another thing different about that Christmas was that 
when Sandra and I ran in shouting and laughing at 
five, as we always did, my father got up just as soon as 
my mother. 

When we went downstairs, we found almost as many 
presents as on other Christmas mornings. There was a 
nice fire engine from Uncle Norman, a cowboy suit from 
Aunt Ruth, a Meccano set from Uncle Adolph, something, 
in fact, from every one of Santa Claus's helpers. No, it 
wasn't the presents that made this Christmas seem so 
different, it was how quiet everything was. Pierce-Arrows 
and Packards and Cadillacs didn't keep stopping by all 
day long with new presents for us. And none of the peo- 
ple like Norman and Ruth and Uncle Edgar, the fa- 
mous director, and Aunt Betty, the rising ingenue, and 
Uncle Dick, the young star, and the scenario writer, 
Uncle Bill, none of them dropped in at all. James the 
butler was gone, too. For the first Christmas since I could 
remember, we had Father all to ourselves. Even the 
phone was quiet for a change. Except for a couple of real 
relatives, the only one who showed up at all was Clara. 
She came in around supper time with an old man whose 
hair was yellow at the temples and gray on top. Her face was 
very red and when she picked me up to kiss me, her 
breath reminded me of the Christmas before, only 
stronger. My father poured her and her friend the foamy 
yellow drink I wasn't allowed to have. 

She held up her drink and said, "Merry Christmas, Sol. 
And may next Christmas be even merrier." 

My father's voice sounded kind of funny, not laughing 
as he usually did. "Thanks, Clara," he said. "You're a pal." 

"Nerts," Clara said. "Just because I don't wanna be a 



MY CHRISTMAS CAROL 139 

fair-weather friend like some of these other Hollywood 
bas — " 

"Shhh, the children," my mother reminded her. 

"Oh hell, I'm sorry," Clara said. "But anyway, you 
know what I mean." 

My mother looked from us to Clara and back to us 
again. "Chris, Sandra," she said. "Why don't you take 
your toys up to your own room and play? We'll be up 
later." 

In three trips I carried up to my room all the impor- 
tant presents. I also took up a box full of cards that had 
been attached to the presents. As a bit of holiday home- 
work, our penmanship teacher Miss Whitehead had sug- 
gested that we separate all Christmas-card signatures into 
those of Spencerian grace and those of cramp-fingered 
illegibility. I played with my Meccano set for a while, I 
practiced twirling my lasso and I made believe Sandra 
was an Indian, captured her and tied her to the bed- 
stead as my hero Art Acord did in the movies. I captured 
Sandra three or four times and then I didn't know what 
to do with myself, so I spread all the Christmas cards out 
on the floor and began sorting them just as Miss White- 
head had asked. 

I sorted half a dozen, all quite definitely non- 
Spencerian, but it wasn't until I had sorted ten or 
twelve that I began to notice something funny. It was all 
the same handwriting. Then I came to a card of my fa- 
ther's. I was just beginning to learn how to read hand- 
writing, and I wasn't very good at it yet, but I could 
recognize the three little bunched-together letters that 
spelled Dad. I held my father's card close to my eyes and 
compared it with the one from Uncle Norman. It was 
the same handwriting. Then I compared them with the 
one from Uncle Adolph. All the same handwriting. Then 
I picked up one of Sandra's cards, from Aunt Ruth, and 



140 



held that one up against my father's. I couldn't understand 
it. My father seemed to have written them all. 

I didn't say anything to Sandra about this, or to the 
nurse when she gave us our supper and put us to bed. 
But when my mother came in to kiss me good night I 
asked her why my father's handwriting was on all the 
cards. My mother turned on the light and sat on the edge 
of the bed. 

"You don't really believe in Santa Claus any more, do 
you?" she asked. 

"No," I said. "Fred and Clyde told me all about it at 
school." 

"Then I don't think it will hurt you to know the rest," 
my mother said. "Sooner or later you will have to know 
these things." 

Then she told me what had happened. Between last 
Christmas and this one, my father had lost his job. He 
was trying to start his own company now. Lots of stars 
and directors had promised to go with him. But when 
the time had come to make good on their promises, they 
had backed out. Though I didn't fully understand it at 
the time, even in the simplified way my mother tried to 
explain it, I would say now that for most of those people 
the security of a major-company payroll had outweighed 
an adventure on Poverty Row — the name for the group of 
little studios where the independent producers struggled 
to survive. 

So this had been a lean year for my father. We had 
sold one of the cars, let the butler go, and lived on a 
budget. As Christmas approached, Mother had cut our 
presents to a minimum. 

"Anyway, the children will be taken care of," my fa- 
ther said. "The old gang will see to that." 

The afternoon of Christmas Eve my father had had a 
business appointment, to see a banker about more financ- 
ing for his program of pictures. When he came home, 



MY CHRISTMAS CAROL 141 

Sandra and I had just gone to bed, and Mother was ar- 
ranging the presents around the tree. There weren't 
many presents to arrange, just the few they themselves 
had bought. There were no presents at all from my so- 
called aunts and uncles. 

"My pals," Father said. "My admirers. My loyal em- 
ployees." 

Even though he had the intelligence to understand 
why these people had always sent us those expensive pres- 
ents, his vanity, or perhaps I can call it his good nature, 
had led him to believe they did it because they liked 
him and because they genuinely were fond of Sandra 
and me. 

"I'm afraid the kids will wonder what happened to all 
those Santa Claus's helpers," my mother said. 

"Wait a minute," my father said. "I've got an idea. 
Those bastards are going to be Santa Claus's helpers 
whether they know it or not." 

Then he had rushed out to a toy store on Hollywood 
Boulevard and bought a gift for every one of the aunts 
and uncles who were so conspicuously absent. 

I remember, when my mother finished explaining, how 
I bawled. I don't know whether it was out of belated 
gratitude to my old man or whether I was feeling sorry 
for myself because all those famous people didn't like 
me as much as I thought they did. Maybe I was only 
crying because that first, wonderful and ridiculous part of 
childhood was over. From now on I would have to face a 
world in which there was not only no Santa Claus, but 
very, very few on-the-level Santa Claus's helpers. 



142 



ENSIGN WEASEL 



Those first days of naval training, no one, to use a land- 
lubber phrase, could see the trees for the forest. The only 
impression any of us had was of a new, overwhelming 
environment. I don't think any of us would have even 
remembered each other's faces if we had left there after 
forty-eight hours. It was something like being run down 
by an eight-wheel truck. You may get a quick look at the 
front end of the truck, but you're darned if you could 
ever recognize, the face of the driver. 

Except for a few Chiefs temporarily elevated to the 
level of Navy privilege and responsibility (as our new 
commission status was described to us), we were all 
erstwhile civilians who did not know enough to differ- 
entiate between "parade rest" and "at ease," or to trans- 
late three bells into our old Eastern Standard Time, or 
to explain the different functions of a stream anchor and 



ENSIGN WEASEL 143 

a boat anchor. For nearly all of us those first hours were 
like the moment after the plunge from the high board 
into the pool when the diver is still going down, before 
he can begin to open his eyes and orient himself toward 
the surface. Unfamiliar subjects and unfamiliar systems 
of behavior were being thrown at us so fast that we had 
no chance to bring our surroundings into focus. We were 
still going down, but somehow, even in that dark con- 
fusion, we managed to respond to bells, bugles, commands 
and orders (we had just been told the distinction), for 
man, like his brother, the white rat, is highly susceptible 
to habit-suggestion. 

Among us were men who turned out to be clever, men 
who proved slow, men who were quick to laugh, men 
who were sullen, men who had been college professors 
in sheltered academic communities and were shy among 
worldly men, and men who had been whiskey salesmen 
and knew how to make a Pullman washroom roar with 
laughter. But in the haze of strangeness that enveloped us 
those first days, we were all indistinguishable parts of one 
great beast that hit the deck at reveille, performed its 
calisthenics, went to chow, answered muster, attended 
class, formed for drill, marched, studied, fed, grew weary, 
shed its uniform, polished its shoes, doused its face and 
fell into its sack at taps. 

It was procedure at the school, however, for our com- 
pany to be commanded by a student officer from our own 
ranks. As Lieutenant Murdock, the young staff officer 
in charge of our metamorphosis informed us of this, there 
was a not quite imperceptible flinching back, the faceless 
mass not yet ready to assume responsibility, leadership, 
or even individual personalities. After all, we were not 
men. We were zombies in khaki. It seemed an affront to 
our conglomerate anonymity to attempt to single one 
of us out. 

"We'll alternate the job of Company Commander so 



144 



that as many men as possible will have an opportunity 
to gain the experience," the staff officer said. "All right, 
now, who wants to lead off? Anybody here with previous 
military experience?" 

There was another uneasy silence, and although all of 
us were staring straight ahead, we gave the impression of 
dropping our eyes and lowering our heads to avoid being 
seen. 

The young staff officer gave a small smile of superiority 
that was meant to be sympathetic. "Come on now, don't 
be shy. You'll probably all have to do it sooner or later." 

But we were not to be coaxed out from the protective 
herd. 

"No previous military experience at all?" 

Then, in the silence, a voice from somewhere in the 
rear spoke up. "I've had previous military experience, 
sir." 

Irresistibly, all our heads turned. Every one of us had 
to mark for himself this first one to disassociate himself 
from the group. 

"All right, eyes front," the staff officer snapped. "You 
men are still at attention." Then he turned to the man 
who had answered his question, and told him to come 
front and center. 

Even in our stiffened attitudes of attention, I could 
feel all of us in the ranks leaning slightly forward in our 
eagerness to see the volunteer. A short, wiry fellow, with 
a face his mother must call alert but which impressed us 
as cocky, he stepped out smartly, executed his flank turn 
with clean movements and, when he had come within 
proper distance of the staff officer, threw him a salute 
with plenty of snap (we were supersensitive to things like 
this because we were just then learning how much more 
difficult proper saluting was than it looked at first glance). 
While he held his salute nicely until the staff officer re- 
turned it, I recognized this eager beaver as the little fel- 



ENSIGN WEASEL 145 

low who had the upper bunk right next to mine in the 
barracks. 

"Your name, sir?" 

"Wessel, sir." 

"How much military training have you had, Wessel?" 

"Naval ROTC in high school, sir." 

Someone down the line snorted. The staff officer ad- 
dressed us soberly. "I am going to appoint Mr. Wes- 
sel your first Student Commander. He will be in exactly 
the same authority here that I have been since you re- 
ported. You understand, men, the fact that he is a Stu- 
dent Officer like yourself in no way limits his authority 
for the period of his command. Any act of disrespect or 
disobedience toward him will be considered an act of in- 
subordination under the Articles of War." He turned to 
Wessel and said officially, "Mr. Wessel, assume command." 

Wessel saluted again, very salty, and faced us solemnly. 
I don't know if all of us did, but I think most of us could 
sense what was coming. By some law of compensation, 
men who are deprived of the natural means of self- 
expression and exchange of opinion can become so sen- 
sitized to each other that one can feel little silent waves 
of approval or apprehension or resentment running 
through an entire company. What we felt now had no 
approval in it. Something in the way Wessel looked, in 
the way he changed when he stepped forward to assume 
command, gave us a hint of what we were in for. 

The bark of Wessel's commands was keyed to a self- 
conscious stridency as he dressed us off, brought us back 
to attention and then put us "at ease." Then he stepped 
forward and addressed us with exactly that tone of con- 
descension that often passes for a confidential man-to- 
man talk from a ranking military leader to his men. 

"Men," he began, "I couldn't help noticing a few mo- 
ments ago that when I told Lieutenant Murdock I had 
had naval ROTC training, one of you laughed." He 



146 



paused, for emphasis, and though I think every one of 
us in the ranks wanted to laugh again, we all waited 
dumbly with poker faces. "Maybe none of you realize 
that if you had all been in the naval ROTC, if our coun- 
try had been more fully prepared, Pearl Harbor would 
never have happened. So when you laugh at naval ROTC 
you're casting aspersions on the Navy itself, and our flag." 

If it had been a movie, a great Old Glory in techni- 
color would have unfurled majestically behind Wessel at 
this moment. Or perhaps phantom images of Roosevelt, 
Marshall and King would have grouped around him. But 
this was just Wessel all alone, a small figure against the 
high walls and towers of the fort. Lieutenant Murdock 
was looking on, but there was no way of telling from his 
young, carefully indoctrinated face which side he was on. 
In the silence, if there is any such thing as a hate-detector, 
our rising resentment would have sent it on past the dan- 
ger point. But Wessel was too insulated by sudden power 
to feel the hate waves that rose from us and curled around 
him. 

"Now I would like to ask that man who laughed to 
please step forward," he persisted. 

No one moved. We all just stood there hating Wessel. 

"Mr. Wessel," Lieutenant Murdock said, "if you wish 
to call a man out from the ranks officially, I suggest you 
bring your company to attention and give him the com- 
mand, one step forward, march." 

Now we knew where Lieutenant Murdock stood, and 
we regarded him as a human being for the first time 
since we had come to the fort. "Thank you, sir," Wessel 
said, and saluted. He was a little flustered. He gave the 
command, "Attention" and about half the company 
snapped to attention, but those of us who remembered 
what we had been taught the day before, that you don't 
have to respond to a command unless it is given properly, 
remained smugly 'at ease.' "Company, attention," Wessel 



ENSIGN WEASEL 147 

quickly corrected himself, and he glared at us for capi- 
talizing on his mistake. He had not been out there in 
front of us more than two minutes, but that had been 
time enough for a declaration of war on both sides. We 
had sighted each other and were moving forward to en- 
gage each other, as we were learning to say. 

"Now," Wessel faced us for the showdown, "the gen- 
tleman who laughed, on his honor as a naval officer, one 
step forward, harch." 

There was a split-second pause and then a large, red- 
faced easygoing fellow with quite a belly on him stepped 
forward. Wessel marched toward him with his back very 
stiff, the expression on his face a small-fry imitation of 
Admiral King's. He was a full head shorter than the 
man he had called out, which lent a certain absurdity to 
the severity with which he regarded him. 

"Your name?" 

"Finnegan . . . sir." 

The way Finnegan added that dutiful monosyllable 
would have had to be heard to be fully appreciated. It 
slipped out in a kind of effeminate slur that met the official 
requirements of respect while at the same time oozing 
disrespect. Now, under the pressure of Wessel's reign, our 
phalanx anonymity was giving way to individuality again. 
We were beginning to have our villains and our heroes 
and soon we would find our jesters, our drones, our wor- 
riers, our politicians, our agitators, our rebels and our 
Babbitts, like any other family of men. It was as if we 
had all been lying together in a dark box like identical 
matches, and now, struck against the flint of Student 
Commander Wessel, we flared into flames of different 
sizes, hues and intensity. By the end of this day, for in- 
stance, we would know that our friend Jim Finnegan was 
a Hiram Walker distributor for Eastern New Jersey, that 
he called his wife "Ginger," that he had played second- 
string guard for Rutgers, that he was rather proud of his 



148 



imitation of Amos and Andy, with which he had once 
wowed a wholesale liquor convention, and that he liked 
to form barracks quartets to sing old ones like "I Want 
a Girl Just Like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad." 
But right now he was a one-man patrol feeling out the 
enemy in the first skirmish of one of those innumerable 
little wars that rage within larger wars that are fought 
within still larger wars. 

Now Wessel was firing at point-blank range. "Didn't 
you understand Lieutenant Murdock when he explained 
that I was to receive exactly the same respect as if I were 
your regular Commanding Officer? If you were to laugh 
at a remark of your Commanding Officer, you would be 
guilty of insubordination and ..." 

"Excuse me . . . sir," Finnegan interrupted. "I 
laughed at you before you had taken command. Lieuten- 
ant Murdock hadn't appointed you yet." 

None of us moved or made a sound, but we all smiled. 
That was one time when a generality like "the company 
smiled" would have been absolutely accurate. 

"Mr. Wessel" — Lieutenant Murdock came into it — "I 
would suggest you return Mr. Finnegan to his squad 
without further reprimand. You are absolutely right to 
stress military discipline, and there is certainly no place 
for levity here. But in this initial stage of the indoctrin- 
ation course, we can be a little more lenient with newly 
commissioned officers than we might be later on. After 
all, we must remember that they have not had your ad- 
vantage of previous military training." All of us searched 
the proper face of the recent Annapolis graduate for some 
sign of sarcasm as he addressed his colleague from the 
naval ROTC. But we searched in vain. It was like look- 
ing for something you have dropped under the seat of 
your car. You are sure it must be there, but you can't 
find it. "Mr. Wessel," Lieutenant Murdock said, "I as- 



ENSIGN WEASEL 149 

sume you are familiar with the commands and proper 
execution of close-order drill." 

"Yes, sir," Wessel said emphatically. 

"Then for the next forty-five minutes you will drill 
your men. Have them back here by 1600 and dismiss 
them for recreation and showers until chow call." 

Then Lieutenant Murdock was gone. We had been 
delivered over to Mr. Wessel. 

We were on our way out to the drill field, and doing 
pretty well for beginners, we thought, when Wessel gave 
the command, "Third platoon, to the rear, harch." The 
entire company, with the exception of the inevitable two 
or three who forgot to turn at all, reversed its course. 
Wessel shouted "Company, halt," in an angry voice. "I 
gave you that command on purpose to see if you were on 
your toes," he scolded. "I distinctly said third platoon, 
not company. Now let's see you fellows get on the ball. 
You're being trained for a war, not a tea party." 

It was a warm day and streaks of sweat had begun to 
stain our blouses. Wessel got us back in formation, turned 
us around and started us off again, counting cadence for 
us in his best military manner, "Hun, tuh, thr, fuh, heft, 
right . . ." Then, because some of us were out of step 
he gave the order for us all to count cadence in unison. 
It started somewhere in the rear squad, and spread for- 
ward, so in time with the cadence that it could hardly 
be distinguished. But it was there all right: "We — hate — 
Wes — sel — all — right ..." 

When Wessel finally detected this mutiny in the ranks 
an extra bit of color flushed his cheeks, but he fought 
back stubbornly. "All right, wise guys, knock it off." Then 
he countered with a "Change step, harch." We hadn't 
been taught this yet, so the result was pretty much of a 
foul-up. We knew the only reason Wessel had given us 
this was to show off his military virtuosity, but another 



150 



reason it made us mad was because we were just reach- 
ing that stage of indoctrination where we had begun to 
take pride in ourselves as a unit, enjoying the rhythm of 
doing things right. 

"What's the matter with you joes, two left feet?" Wes- 
sel scolded again. 

This time a lean, bony-faced, red-haired squad leader 
spoke up. "No, sir, it was your fault, sir. You were out 
of step." 

We all looked at him gratefully, another individual 
added to our growing list. We had our villain, we had 
our hero, now we had our expert. 

Wessel went up to him excitedly. "I was out of step? 
How could I be out of step? Aren't you supposed to keep 
in step with my count?" 

"That command can only be given when the right foot 
touches the ground, so you can step out on the left foot, 
sir." 

Wessel looked at him and frowned. He had counted 
on being the only drill man in the outfit. But he knew 
that answer was right out of the Bluejackets' Manual. 
"Where did you learn that?" he asked suspiciously. 

"I've served two hitches in the Navy," the redhead said. 
This was a direct hit. "I've just been commissioned from 
Chief." 

"Then why didn't you put your hand up when Lieuten- 
ant Murdock asked who had previous military experi- 
ence?" Wessel demanded. 

"Because I've been in the Navy long enough to learn 
to keep my mouth shut and never volunteer for anything, 
sir," this redhead said. 

It was a broadside all right, and Wessel didn't have 
enough sense of humor to roll with it. He took it hard. 
All the rest of us laughed, though. The redhead had 
timed it beautifully. We had something there in that 
redhead. 



ENSIGN WEASEL 151 

"All right, knock it off, knock it off," Wessel screamed, 
his voice going high in frustration. He reassembled us 
again, barking his commands with an extra zip to make 
up for that right-foot business. 

So far we figured we were out to an early lead. But it 
wasn't 1600 yet. By this time we were a good half-mile 
from the muster ground on the other side of the fort. It 
was time we started back. But instead of giving us an 
ordinary "Forward, march," Wessel gave us a double 
time. Nearly all of us still had the bodies of middle-class 
civilians in sedentary jobs and one hundred yards of that 
double time was just about our speed. But when we had 
run two hundred yards, Wessel still gave no sign of 
slowing down to ordinary cadence. We were a pretty sick- 
looking lot by that time. Gorham, a fat boy who had 
been recruited from an advertising agency and who had 
done all of his training at Toots Shor's bar, had to give 
up at the halfway mark. We didn't look back, but we 
could hear what he was doing as we left him behind. 
"We ought to rub that little bastard's nose in it," some- 
one muttered. 

The rest of us managed to finish, but it was pretty 
bad. It reminded me of a movie about the mad Czar of 
Russia I had seen when I was a kid. All about how Paul 
the First marched his soldiers up and down all day long 
until some of them dropped dead. Then, for laughs, he 
faced a squad toward a cliff, told them to forward march 
and then went in to have his dinner. Two soldiers who 
refused to commit themselves to the ravine as per Paul's 
command were shot for disobedience. That's what I was 
thinking about Wessel while I was trying to catch my 
breath. A couple of fellows had the heaves. 

Only Flanders, the redheaded ex-Chief, and Gersh, the 
Jewish boy who had been a Brooklyn handball cham- 
pion, and one or two others I hadn't noticed before 
were able to stand up without struggling for breath. We 



152 



were too exhausted even to hate Wessel the way we were 
going to when we caught our breaths. 

"Sixteen hundred to seventeen-thirty, turn to for rec- 
reation/' Wessel announced. "Company dismissed." 

"How about this for recreation?" Finnegan suggested 
to a couple of new friends as we headed wearily for the 
barracks. "Let's throw Wessel on his back and we'll all 
jump on him, in cadence, double time." In our weakened 
conditions, needing a safety valve for our anger, that 
seemed funny enough to be worth passing on to the en- 
tire company. 

We all walked back to the barracks in two's and three's. 
Only Wessel walked alone, an erect, solitary little figure, 
feeling the weight of his responsibilities. That evening at 
mess no one would pass him anything and no one would 
speak to him. I think, in a way, we were all glad to have 
Wessel there to focus our anger on. A body of men in 
training needs something like that to break the monotony. 
Tojo and Der Fiihrer were too far away. We were all 
wandering around blindfold and we needed something to 
pin the tail on. The existence of Wessel gave all of us 
our first chance to express ourselves. I made up a limer- 
ick about him which won me my first recognition. Fin- 
negan worked up an imitation that proved very popular. 
Flanders called him "The Admiral," and that name 
pleased us for a while. Somebody else called him "Little 
Napoleon," and a serious high-school teacher from Troy 
amended that to "Napoleon the Fourth." Our imagina- 
tions seemed limitless, our wit endlessly resourceful 
where Wessel was concerned. Thanks to Wessel, we had 
our first sense of morale. That was the first evening that 
real laughter was heard in the mess hall. We began to dis- 
cover that we were not just a line of mechanical men out 
of some blue-jacketed RUR. Each one of us had his own 
individual way of reacting to the tyranny of Student 



ENSIGN WEASEL 153 

Commander Wessel and we were drawn toward one an- 
other in the common cause. 

Wessel and I had to undress in the same narrow space 
between the double-decker beds. "Sure wish we had a 
little more room to stow our gear, mate," he said. He 
talked as if he had been born in the navy. He was a 
salty little character, all right. I didn't say anything. Even 
if I had wanted to, I was silenced by the spontaneous 
unwritten law. There wasn't going to be any fraterniza- 
tion with the enemy. 

After Wessel got undressed and came back from the 
head, he knelt on the stone floor against the sack under 
his and said his prayers. I was a little sorry to see him do 
this. It nicked the sharp edge of my indignation just a 
little bit. Not that I was sentimental about people saying 
their prayers. It was just that from my upper he looked 
awfully small and vulnerable down there. He didn't look 
quite formidable enough to be worth the emotion we 
were all expending. But even after taps, with the lights 
out, the war went on. Someone, I think it was Finnegan, 
but it might have been another wag, Cosgrove, began 
giving falsetto commands in an outrageous take-off of 
Wessel. 

"All right, pipe down," Wessel called. 

"Pipe down," the falsetto echoed. "Change step, harch," 
a high voice mimicked. 

"Come on, knock it off," Wessel demanded. 

But his military authority couldn't do him much good 
in the dark. "Knock it off, girls," a series of falsettos 
trilled through the barracks. 

But next morning Wessel returned to the attack. At 
morning muster he laced into one platoon leader for not 
keeping his fingers together when he saluted on the "all 
present and accounted for." During the morning it began 
to drizzle and the uniform of the day was changed to 



154 



include rain covers and raincoats. When we mustered 
after noon chow, Wessel's sharp eyes discovered that a 
small, somewhat comical ensign by the name of Botts was 
not wearing the plastic cover that fitted over our cloth 
hat covers. Botts was a pharmacist from Oxford, Missis- 
sippi, who had already come to Wessel's attention because 
of an inability to keep in step that was so consistent it 
appeared to be congenital. Wessel bore down on him 
now exactly as one has read the first Napoleon did, up- 
braiding his man for inattention to regulations. In his 
slow, naive drawl, Botts explained that rain covers had 
sold out at the PX before he could get one. 

"That is no excuse," Wessel decided. "You should have 
had one with you when you reported aboard here." 

We were still on land, of course, but Wessel had al- 
ready caught the navy way. We half-expected him to 
sentence Botts to fifty lashes. He did put him on report, 
which meant two afternoons with the awkward squad that 
had to do half an hour of extra drilling during the rec- 
reation period. 

"Ah doan hardly think that's fai-er, Mr. Weasel," Botts 
protested. The way he talked it was impossible to tell 
whether that was a sarcastic pun on Wessel's name or 
just a beautiful coincidence. Probably it was just acci- 
dental, for the chances are Botts was too simple a man to 
invent so ingenious an insult. A day before, hearing that 
writing had been my civilian profession, he had said, "We 
got one of them fellas in my town. Sleeps all day an' 
stays up all night an' is always comin' in for aspirin. 
Fella by the name o' Fo'kner." Anyway, whether it was 
dialect or inspiration, Botts' name for our nemesis sup- 
planted all the others. From then on I never heard him 
called anything else but Weasel. 

Right up to the last day of his temporary command, 
Weasel ran us ragged. He even put me on the awkward 
squad for mislaying one of my textbooks. When I had to 



ENSIGN WEASEL 155 

go up to him and confess my crime, he said, "What do 
you mean, your Watch Officers' Guide is lost? You mean 
it's adrift." On another occasion Finnegan, who was not 
our neatest officer, came to muster with one shirttail not 
quite tucked in behind. "You've got an Irish pennant," 
Weasel admonished him. Finnegan thought his racial 
stock was being insulted, but it turned out this was just 
navy for any loose end. Day after day, Weasel drove us 
crazy with that salty stuff. He caught Cosgrove saying, 
"I'm going upstairs," one time and made him come to 
attention and repeat "I'm going topside" twenty-five times. 
But Weasel's behavior all during his command was hu- 
man compared to his conduct the Saturday morning of 
the first captain's inspection. The commander of the com- 
pany judged most exemplary was to become Battalion 
Commander for the following week and Weasel coveted 
that post feverishly. At our own company inspection at 
muster, a kind of dress rehearsal, Weasel fumed and 
fussed over us like the Prussian drill instructor to whom 
he was related in spirit. He detected a speck of dirt on 
several white hat covers and ordered the offenders to fall 
out and dust them with face powder or chalk. Poor Botts, 
a military man by Act of Congress but not of God, had 
turned up with a khaki hat cover when the uniform of the 
day called for white. Weasel gave him a tongue-lashing 
that would have been worthy of Admiral Halsey. Botts 
was put on report, which meant he would automatically 
be deprived of his first week-end liberty. Botts, Wrong- 
foot Botts, we called him affectionately, had become a 
sort of company mascot and terrible threats of revenge 
were muttered through our ranks. Someone was promis- 
ing to beat the Weasel to a pulp after the war if he had 
to track him down halfway around the world. Botts was 
swearing that if he ever got on the same vessel with 
Weasel he would push him overboard at night. 

Before we marched over to the main drill field where 



156 



the Commandant of the school and his staff officers were 
waiting to review us, Weasel gave us a real fighting man's 
pep talk. We were going over to do or die this morning 
for the honor of Company A. Weasel expected every man 
to be on his toes. Weasel had every confidence that we 
would be the smartest company on the field. Napoleon 
before Austerlitz couldn't have addressed his men with 
greater challenge. 

We came up onto the main field with Weasel strut- 
ting out in front like a college-band drum major. We 
were a pretty smart-looking outfit at that, for a bunch of 
last week's civilians. But as our turn came to turn and 
pass the reviewing party, we were supposed to execute 
a left flank so the whole company could pass in two long 
lines. The first two platoons did a flank turn to perfec- 
tion, but the third platoon, led by Finnegan, executed a 
column turn instead. Even if you never knew or have 
forgotten your close-order drill, you can probably imagine 
what a blow this would be to the military career of our 
first Student Commander. When Company C won the ac- 
colade, Weasel looked as if he had lost the big war all by 
himself instead of just this little Saturday-morning one. 

We never knew for sure whether or not Finnegan's 
boner was an accidental or intentional thrust at Weasel's 
military ambitions, but whichever it was, it settled our 
first Student Commander's military star, at least there at 
the training school. 

On Monday we had a new Student Commander, the 
ex-Chief, Flanders, who knew how to keep us in line with- 
out treading on our toes. By the end of that second week 
we were so absorbed with blinker, the names of the 
seven different mooring lines, the semaphore alphabet 
and the relative hauling power of whip-and-runner and 
jigger tackle, that we had neither time nor energy to 
hate Mr. Weasel in the manner to which he had become 
accustomed. By the end of the third week his name wasn't 



ENSIGN WEASEL 157 

even mentioned any more. He was around, marching in 
the ranks with the rest of us, hitting the deck at 0600, 
standing watches and attending classes, but as Commander 
Weasel, the scourge of the company, he wasn't there at 
all. The only hangover left from our original indigna^ 
tion was the continuance of the silent treatment. It wasn't 
an active thing any longer, just a habit we had gotten 
into that first week and habits are hard to break when 
they become imbedded in a group like ours. 

Near the end of the course I was sprawled out on the 
bunk next to Wessel's struggling over a navigation prob- 
lem that included a double-running fix I was the last man 
in the class to master. Weasel was sitting on the edge of 
his sack and after a while he began looking over my 
shoulder. When he saw where I was making my mis- 
take, he pointed it out to me. I thanked him and he 
moved in and worked out the rest of the problem for 
me. That saved me about half an hour at a time when I 
needed every minute I could get to cram for the final 
exams. Weasel knew his navigation, all right. No one else 
was as fast at plane recognition or receiving blinker, 
either. We talked a while after he brought my hypotheti- 
cal ship into port. I didn't encourage him much, but it 
didn't take much. After all, man's a social animal who 
can starve for conversation just as he can for bread. I felt 
a little sorry for Weasel now, so I threw him a few 
crumbs of conversation. 

I guess that was the first time anybody had talked to 
Weasel in the two months we had been there. We talked 
about Topic A, of course, what kind of orders we hoped 
to get when the course was finished. Each of us had been 
given forms to fill out that day indicating our choice of 
sea and shore jobs. They didn't promise to send us where 
we wanted to go, of course, but the Commandant had 
said our preferences would be "a guide to the final de- 
cisions." The jobs and types of vessels we listed were 



158 



probably as good a guide to our characters as you could 
find. Flanders told us he had picked PT's. He liked small 
boats and after those two hitches he wanted to be his 
own boss. Gersh wanted to skipper a landing craft in 
European waters. He wanted a personal crack at Der 
Flihrer. I hoped to be assigned to Air Intelligence, one 
of those fellows on the carrier who gets the fliers' stories 
when they come in. Finnegan said it didn't matter what 
he put down. He had things all greased before he came 
in to be a four-striper's aide. Almost every job in the 
navy seemed to appeal to somebody — except that of 
Armed Guard. The Armed Guard officer was the one 
who commanded the navy gun crew on merchant ships. 
That job was on everybody's s-list. For one thing it was 
the merchant ships that were still catching it heaviest 
that season. They seemed to be losing one or two some- 
where almost every day. And then there was all that 
friction between the navy and the merchant marine, an- 
other one of those wars within wars. There were the 
usual rumors of feuding and fighting between navy gun- 
crew commanders and the merchant skippers. Someone 
said an Armed Guard ensign had gone to Portsmouth 
for life for murdering a merchant four-striper who had 
made his life hell all the way to Oran. All of us thought 
about Armed Guard the way Russians must think of their 
Arctic forced labor camps. 

So I told Weasel about my ambition to get on an LV 
or an LCV in the Atlantic (I wound up on a stinking 
submarine tender in the Pacific) and he told me he had 
put in for personnel work on a battleship. "I like that 
sixteen-inch armor plate on those BB's," he laughed. I 
thought this sounded a trifle cautious for an old sea dog 
like Weasel but I didn't say anything. I had already ex- 
changed more words with Weasel than our entire com- 
pany combined and I didn't want to overdo it. 

On the day before the graduation exercises our orders 



ENSIGN WEASEL 159 

came through. We were in the barracks, after coming 
back from the classrooms where our final academic stand- 
ings had been posted. Flanders, the acknowledged leader 
now, had placed first, the high-school mathematics teacher 
second and Weasel third. When we opened our orders, 
there were little whoops of triumph and little cries of 
defeat. Flanders was going to have his PT and Gersh was 
going to an anti-submarine school outside of Miami. I was 
supposed to report to the Potomac River Naval Com- 
mand, apparently to write PRO stuff for the Bureau of 
Yards and Docks in Washington, exactly what I had 
hoped to avoid. Then there were the usual service foul- 
ups. Larrabee, a civilian radio engineer, had been 
short-circuited to a personnel job, and Finnegan, whose 
scientific knowledge did not extend beyond his ability to 
describe the ingredients of blended whiskey, had been 
assigned to a radar school at Harvard. Foster, a rich boy 
from the Cape who had been sailing all his life and who 
had joined the navy through an old-fashioned love of the 
sea, was assigned to an ordnance depot in Norman, Okla- 
homa. 

But when I looked at Weasel, I saw the worst defeat 
of all. He was sitting on his bunk, staring at his orders. 
All the color had gone out of his face. I thought he was 
going to cry. 

"What did you get, Wessel?" 

He ran his hand over his forehead twice before he 
said it. It was hard for him to make the words come out. 
"Armed — Guard." 

It got around the barracks the way a thing like that 
would. In less than a minute, Finnegan, Cosgrove and 
the other leaders of the fun were crowding around him. 
Botts was there, too, and the others who had had to take 
it from him in the beginning. It was as if they had all 
discovered Weasel again. For two months he had been 
practically forgotten, but now, in these last moments 



160 



before we scattered literally to the seven seas, it all came 
back to us again, the ordeal of that double-time run back 
to the fort, the needlessly intricate drills, the sweaty 
hours we had spent on the awkward squad, the face of 
the Weasel as he shouted his commands at us. . . . 

"Armed Guard," Finnegan said and he shook his head 
in mock-tragedy. "Well, good-bye, Weasel, it was nice 
knowing you." 

"Did you read about that merchant ship that went 
down in the Gulf last week?" Cosgrove asked the crowd. 
"Damn sharks ate the entire personnel." 

"Remember, Weasel, we expect you to live up to the 
highest traditions of the Navy," Flanders said. "Keep those 
guns blazing until you go down into the drink." 

"Maybe you should have some last words handy," Gersh 
suggested. "Something that will go down in naval history 
like 'Don't Give up the Ship' or 'We Have Not Yet Be- 
gun to Fight.' " 

"Ah hear those dirty old merchant marine skippers eat 
navy ensigns for breakfast," Botts drawled. 

Weasel looked out at us from behind his white, stricken 
face. "Get away from me, you dirty bastards. Get away 
from me!" 

His shame was public now. We had all seen the mois- 
ture in his eyes. By evening Finnegan was leading his 
quartet in one of those spontaneous little songs that 
sweep a barracks. 

Armed Guard — Armed Guard 1 

Weasel takes it very hard. 

He came in salty as he could be, 

But when it came to going to sea — 

He'd rather send you, and he'd rather send me. 

The taunts continued after taps again. A bass voice in 
the darkness offering "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep" 
or Finnegan coming up with "To Commander Weasel, 



ENSIGN WEASEL 161 

the Navy Cross — posthumous" was all the stimulus we 
needed for prolonged laughter. But no imperious com- 
mands to "knock it off" came from Weasel's sack now. I 
could see him lying on his back, mute and miserable. It 
almost seemed as if you could smell the fear oozing out 
of him as from an infected wound. Once I thought I 
heard a muffled sob, but I couldn't say for sure. 

I didn't think anything more about Weasel until three 
or four months later when I went up to the BuPers of- 
fice in the Navy Building to see what I could do about 
getting out of that PRO job. There he was, at a desk 
near the railing. When he saw me he smiled and came 
right over and wanted to shake hands. He was looking 
a lot happier than when I had seen him last. 

"Hello there, mate." He smiled invitingly. "How's the 
navy treating you?" 

"Four oh," I said, shoveling it back to him. "How 
long you been up here?" 

"I got myself yanked out of that Armed Guard school 
after five days. I knew a three-striper from home up 
here." 

"I thought you'd be a thousand miles out to sea by 
this time," I said, thinking of the time he had made me 
say adrift when my Watch Officers' Guide was lost. 

"Well, a man might as well go where he can do the 
most good," he said. "After all, I was a CPA for six 
years. Paper work is my job. I can probably do more for 
the war effort right here than on a stinking merchant 
ship." 

"And live longer too," I agreed. 

"The Navy doesn't need any heroes," Weasel said. "It 
needs men who can do their jobs where they're best 
suited." 

I looked at the papers on his desk. They seemed to be 
requests from officers for transfers from their present 



162 



stations. They'd come to someone like Weasel for proces- 
sing. 

"I suppose you get quite a few requests for transfer 
from Armed Guard," I said. 

"Anything I can do for you, just say the word," Weasel 
answered. "I got a pretty good in with the Old Man 
here. Might be able to expedite something for you." 

"Weasel," I said, "the only expediting I'd like to see 
is your transference to a fighting ship that's going into 
action. I'm not like you, Weasel," I said. "I hate war. 
And one of the things I hate most about it is you and 
your kind of expediting." 

There. I had said it. It is vitamin pills for the soul to 
make a speech like that. Weasel turned a little pale — but 
not as pale as he had turned when he got those original 
orders to Armed Guard — and went over to his desk and 
sat down with his papers. 

I didn't see him again until after VJ Day, when I was 
back from the Pacific and had gone up to the Bureau of 
Supplies and Accounts to get my pay accounts straight- 
ened out. There was Weasel, at another desk. He was a 
Lieutenant Commander now, and his left side was cov- 
ered with ribbons, the Victory, the American Theater, 
the Asiatic Theater, the Navy Commendation, and two 
different kinds for marksmanship. 

He came over when he saw me and greeted me like an 
old shipmate. And of course he offered to expedite the 
endorsing of my orders and the back per-diem pay that 
was due me. There was quite a line in front of me and 
I was all hopped up inside to see the wife and kids for the 
first time in two years so I stifled what was left of my char- 
acter after twenty months on that damned tender, behind 
the battle lines but under direct fire from mosquitoes, 
heat and boredom. 

While we were waiting for the girl to bring my checks 



ENSIGN WEASEL 163 

up, Weasel told me a little about his war. He had been 
up in the Aleutians, after the Japs had been driven 
off, and out to Pearl after the war had moved on and he 
had spent four months in Rio, for some reason. "Boy, 
the muchachas down there!" he said with a touch of the 
continental he had acquired on his travels. The captain 
in charge of the office here was going to set up a private 
investment house in New York after his discharge and 
Weasel was going along as his assistant. It had been a 
pretty good war for Weasel all right. 

It was almost three years before I bumped into Weasel 
again. It's seeing him again that has brought this whole 
thing back to me. I was down in Washington on a writing 
assignment the other day and I decided to drop in and say 
hello to Flanders whom I had seen a good deal of in the 
Pacific and who had stayed with the Navy on a regular 
commission. So I was on my way up the main stairs of 
the Navy Building when Weasel was coming down. He 
was in a plain gray business suit and did not look much 
like the Captain Bligh of the training school or the be- 
ribboned expediter of the Battle of Washington. The 
only way you could have spotted him for an ex-military 
man was from the miniature commendation ribbon in 
his buttonhole. 

"Hello, mate," he said. "You here for the same rea- 
son I am?" 

"I don't know — what are you here for?" 

"I'm going back to active duty. I'll be a three-striper 
this time, boy." 

Then he looked at me gravely and I saw the face I had 
first seen on the drill field of the training school, the lit- 
tle Napoleon, the leader of men, the man of action. 

"Looks like we're getting ready for another one." He 
pressed his lips together into a hard line. "We've got to 
build the biggest, strongest navy in the world. I think 



164 



every one of us navy veterans ought to come back in and 
start pulling his weight in the boat." 

"Weasel," I said, "I guess the difference between you 
and me is that you're just a natural-born military man." 

I could see him back in that training school, double- 
timing another batch of flabby civilians. 

"But you've got to be patriotic," he said, a little on the 
defensive. 

"Sure, patriotic," I said. But how could I tell him all 
the different colors and flavors and subtle variations of 
patriotism — all the way from shameless self-aggrandize- 
ment through the normal sense of self-protection to mes- 
sianic self-sacrifice? How do you say those things to a 
little man like Weasel, ready with warlike exhortations 
and drill-instructor discipline to fight the war from desk 
to desk and from shore station to shore station, to the 
last rubber stamp, to the final endorsement? 



165 



THE DARE 



Paul Maxwell was staring out across the light-green sea. 
He was watching a small white outboard plowing up 
the water some hundred yards off the end of the pier. 
Skimming along behind in a golden blur was a water- 
skier. It was one of those things, Paul was thinking, for 
which you remember a vacation day when you're back in 
the city grind, the color of the sea sparkling green as 
champagne, the busy sound of the little outboard motor 
and its foamy white wake, and behind, the lithe human 
figure balanced gracefully on water skis that seemed to 
be flying over the surface of the sea. 

Paul rose, and leaned on the railing of the pier to 
watch the sport. Only then did the yellow-brown halter 
above the deep-tan midriff inform him of the sex of the 
skier. Suddenly the outboard skidded to a daring turn 
and seemed to head directly toward him. It raced for- 



166 



ward until he was sure it was too late to turn away. But 
in a last-moment swing of the stick, the small boat veered 
to safety by inches. But the girl behind, flying toward 
the pier — how could she possibly veer in time? It didn't 
seem real that anything so free, so perfect could come 
to such a brutal ending, but in his mind's panic he was 
already diving in to grope under water for the broken 
body. Then, close enough to Paul for him to see the 
smile on her face — more than a smile, a look of exhilara- 
tion — she calmly leaned out from her skis, in the opposite 
direction from what Paul would have thought logical, 
and shot away from the pier, streaking around the boat 
in a sweeping arc before coming back into position be- 
hind it again. 

Twice more the boat and the skier made passes at the 
pier that seemed to make collision inevitable. But Paul 
was not to be taken in again and watched in fascination 
instead of panic as boat and girl dared themselves to see 
how close to the pier they could come without crashing 
into it. 

"That first time I really thought they had it, General," 
Paul said to a little hard nut of a Cuban who looked as 
if he had been put in to bake and left too long. The 
General, who took care of renting boats and beach equip- 
ment, had won his rank in a now-forgotten South Amer- 
ican war. 

"Oh, that's Gerry Lawford. She's crazy." He said it as if 
everybody already knew it. 

"What kind of crazy?" Paul asked, as he always did 
about words that had lost their original cutting edge. 

"Real crazy," the General said. "Bats in the belfry 
crazy." 

Paul did not have to ask the Cuban to enlarge on this. 
In these two weeks he had come to know the General. 

"Always doing crazy things. Like last year, she tried to 
sail a dinghy to Cuba all by herself. The Coast Guard 



167 



had to fish her out of the drink about thirty miles out. 
That crazy enough for you?" 

Paul liked the story. Not being an adventurer himself, 
he always felt drawn to those who were. 

"Who is she? Where'd she come from?" 

"Oh, Gerry's been around Key West for years." The 
General's grin was an amiable slit in the burnt crust of 
his face. "Calls herself a fugitive from Palm Beach. Her 
folks have a big home up there. Real rich people, own a 
perfume business or something. 'Bout ten years ago 
they had her all set for one of those ritzy Palm Beach 
weddings. Supposed to marry a Prince Somebody-or- 
other. He's still around there, married to an automobile 
heiress. But anyway, the afternoon of the wedding, Gerry 
showed up down here. Came into this bar where I was 
working at the time. It's gone now. Just about all the old 
places are gone. Anyway, this girl Gerry, I'm telling you 
about. I can still remember what she said. 'Let him marry 
one of my sisters. They go in for that stuff. And he 
doesn't care which one it is as long as it comes equipped 
with a checkbook.' 

"Well, the old checkbook wasn't much good to Gerry 
after she landed here. Old man cut her off without a 
cent. But it didn't seem to bother Gerry none. She just 
went on having one hell of a good time." 

"But what'd she do? How'd she get by?" Paul was in- 
terested in things like this. In the dark hours he always 
wondered how he'd manage if he suddenly lost his knack 
for commercial illustrating. 

The General considered a moment. "Gerry did — well, 
she just sort of did things nobody else could get away 
with. For a while she was a mate on a charter boat. I 
know that's a hell of a job for a girl, but somehow Gerry 
talked Red Merritt into it. Then she got on this WPA 
Artists' Project they had down here when things got so 
bad the whole town hadda go on relief. She paints real 



168 



good when she feels like it. Then she came into some 
money — a trust fund or something the old man couldn't 
touch. She bought herself a sloop and just sailed around 
the islands until the money was gone. The kind of per- 
son Gerry is, you never have to worry about her and money. 
Last year she was a crew member in the yacht race to 
Havana. Her boat won and she stayed over in Havana 
with the millionaire and his wife who owned it. They 
staked her to five hundred dollars at the Casino and she 
came back here last fall with enough dough for the year." 
The General chuckled. "Even a year for Gerry." 

Somebody had come up to rent a rowboat and the Gen- 
eral was climbing agilely over the side to pull one to- 
ward the landing. While Paul had been listening to the 
General his eyes had been panning with the outboard 
and the tanned figure that soared in its wake. Now the 
boat was idling and Paul watched how the girl handed 
the skis up over the side and began swimming in toward 
the pier. She swam, as Paul had already come to expect 
her to, a capable Australian crawl, and he was fully pre- 
pared to believe that she had been a Woman's AAU 
free-style champion, maybe even an Olympic winner. For 
even before he had looked into her face, Paul was ready 
to accept her as one of those special people who perform 
the most amazing feats without breaking stride and for 
whom the improbable is merely routine. 

He was watching her intently, at the same time trying 
to disguise the directness of his stare by occasionally 
glancing past her toward the outboard driver who was 
easing the boat toward shore. She scampered up the lad- 
der to the pier, swinging herself up over the edge acro- 
batically. As he watched her lift her arms to shake the 
water from her shining hair, the image struck vividly in 
his mind: the tall, glistening, honey-brown figure with 
its long, smooth muscular symmetry, and the wet, gleam- 
ing face with the surprising Asiatic cast to the eyes. 



THE DARE 169 

He studied her movements with a professional ap- 
praisal intensified by the challenge a man always feels when 
he comes unexpectedly into the presence of a woman who 
attracts him. But, a shy man in his manners, he would 
have let her go silently if she hadn't looked up from shak- 
ing her head clear to grin at him. There was no flirtation 
in it, he could see, no hint of coyness. It was just the 
sudden hello one person flashes to another when they're 
on the edge of the sea, when the sun is warming them 
and they're both caught up in that sense of exquisite well- 
being of a tropical island's winter day. 

"How long have you been doing that?" he heard him- 
self saying. 

"The skiing?" Her voice was pitched low, charged 
with excess energy, and the water was still shining on 
her face. "I think I was born on those things. At least 
I can't even remember learning how to do it." 

He knew everything she had done — all the crazy things 
— she had always done. She was one of those naturals. 

"You make it look so easy." 

"It is, for some people. I've seen others try for a month 
and never even get up out of the water." 

She gave a little laugh that Paul would remember. 

The driver of the outboard was climbing up onto the 
pier now and Paul was just wondering what he could 
say that would leave things open to further possibilities 
instead of closing them. But she solved his problem in 
the most casual way: "If you're on the beach around ten 
tomorrow, come out and try it." She paused, appraising 
him. "Are you good at things?" 

"Well, what kind of . . . ?" 

"Oh, you know, regular skiing, skating, diving," and 
then she added for fun, "tightrope walking, high tra- 
peze . . ." 

"Oh, sure," he replied. "Remember that fellow who 
crossed Niagara Falls on a high wire . . . ?" 



170 



She laughed, and her lips, still moistened with sea wa- 
ter, made him think of the blood-red bougainvillaea 
after a sudden shower. 

"Probably see you tomorrow then," she said, and he 
watched as she strode down the pier with another man. 
For that was the way it already seemed to him. Even 
though an unromantic little voice of reason told him 
this was just one of those vacation reveries. The other 
man was young, tall, handsomely made, tanned to a color 
that comes with years of moving in the sun rather than 
carefully exposing oneself to it for two or three weeks a 
year. With that sense of inferiority that city men have 
when confronted by the masculine great outdoors, Paul 
had to admit to himself that this bronzed Adonis, this 
sun god, was the perfect match for her. They were the 
two glorified figures in the cigarette ads, the bathing- 
suit displays. Good God, he should know them — for ten 
years he had made his living drawing them! 

That evening, for the first time since he had come 
South, he put on his white linen suit, feeling a little 
foolish as he fussed with the bow an extra minute to get 
the ends even and checked the general effect in the full- 
length mirror of the bathroom door. Then he walked 
down to the Beach Club dance. His sense of foolishness, 
of a recapturing of college-prom excitement, increased as 
he saw the couples swaying slowly together in the open 
patio while the orchestra played what every orchestra 
seemed to be playing this season, "Because You're 
Mine . . ." 

Gerry Lawford, who came skimming out of the sun and 
across the sparkling sea, did she really exist? Paul won- 
dered. Or was she merely a city bachelor's sun-struck 
dream? And even if he were to find her here, what good 
would it do him if she were dancing in the arms of the 
sun god? 

Then he saw her, all yellow gold, her hair swept up 



THE DARE 171 

into a crown of jet topped by a single naming hibiscus. 
Paul watched as the tired strains of a worn-out hit tune 
were finally abandoned for a samba. With her cigarette-ad 
partner, Gerry danced it as a professional would have, or, 
perhaps better, as an inspired amateur, with a wild en- 
thusiasm that made all the other dancers on the floor 
appear to be not so much dancing as pushing each other 
around. 

Paul wondered what it would feel like to dance with 
her, and whether cutting in was a breach of Club eti- 
quette, and while he wondered the music stopped and 
Gerry and her cigarette ad were on their way from the 
patio to the parking lot. Paul had no idea how nakedly 
his eyes must have been following them until the Gen- 
eral, now doubling as a buffet waiter, mumbled to him, 
"That's the way she always is — cbmes in for one dance, 
maybe two, then she's off again, always on the move." 

"Think they'll be back, General?" 

The General chuckled. Gerry and her restless ways ob- 
viously served him as entertainment. "A crazy one like 
that, who knows? Right now she's probably on her way 
to the casino at the Casa Marina. Win a thousand, lose 
a thousand, who knows where she'll wind up tonight? 
Maybe flying to Cuba. Maybe trolling around the Keys 
with a kicker." 

The General was amused. But Paul, with nothing to 
go on but a romantic imagination that was working over- 
time, knew he had to go on to the casino. 

He walked around the tables until he found her at 
the craps layout. There were only a few people playing, 
so it was easy to edge in behind her. "Hi," she said when 
she saw him, as if it were perfectly natural that he should 
be there, "bet with me. I'm hot." 

She had the dice and her point rolled ten. The odds 
were with the house, but she bet a hundred on herself 
and made the point on her third roll. Paul had backed 



172 



her for five. She made three more passes, dragging all 
her winnings until she had run a hundred up to almost 
three thousand. Betting with her each time, but conserva- 
tively, Paul was around fifty ahead. The reckless way she 
played seemed to mock his conservatism and he felt sud- 
denly depressed, as if this was a surer sign than any he 
had had before that this was a will o' the wisp. 

She was still running the game, the dice doing every- 
thing she asked of them, when she suddenly lost interest. 
"I'm going to cash these in. Let's play roulette." 

At the roulette table Paul watched with an amazement 
lined with admiration as she plunged on hunches, betting 
the limit on single numbers, all or nothing, 35-1, while 
he was putting five on red or black or settling for the 
short odds on groups of numbers. The wheel wasn't 
rolling for her and in less than ten minutes she had man- 
aged to throw away the big win she had taken from the 
other table. It hadn't been money at all, just little colored 
chips to fling across a board. 

"That's tough luck," Paul said. "You should have quit 
when you were out there in front." 

"Oh, what difference does it make?" Gerry said. "I'd 
just as soon lose it as win it." 

That was beyond him, that kind of recklessness, that 
kind of wildness. Maybe that's why it attracted him so 
strongly. "Time for a drink," she said, and she led him 
into the bar, full of laughter, full of hell, full of some- 
thing Paul had never had to cope with before and he 
remembered the General's answer, "What kind of crazy — 
bats in the belfry crazy." Well, what kind was that? It 
came in all sizes, from you and me to the straitjacket and 
the chair. 

She drank the way he had seen her do all these other 
things, doubles, fast, ready to go further than anybody else, 
closer to the pier. And then, as abruptly as she had lost 



173 



interest in the dance, the dice, she said, "Oh, the hell 
with this drinking. Who wants to go swimming?" 

The cigarette ad, who had been at the bar when they 
reached it, said, "Oh, God, that again? I gave up moon- 
light swimming about the time I had my first hangover. 
Once a season holds me fine." 

Paul was wondering if he could make his voice sound 
casual enough when he said it. "I'll go swimming with 
you." 

"Swell. Are you a good swimmer?" 

"Oh, good enough to paddle around." 

"I feel like swimming tonight. I think I could swim 
to Cuba tonight." 

Remembering the General's joke about Gerry and her 
impulsive night flights, Paul wondered about that last 
one. He wondered too if her escort was objecting to this 
improvised shift in the evening's pairing. Paul even 
started to mutter something about it, but the sun god was 
ahead of him. "Good God, I'm glad she's found a sucker 
she can entice into those inky waters. Otherwise I might 
have had to go myself." 

Paul and Gerry sat on the end of the Club pier. The wa- 
ter was black and uninviting as it sloshed up under the 
pilings. It should have been moonlight, Paul was think- 
ing. 

"I never win long shots," he was saying. "And this 
afternoon, when I first saw you out there, it was an easy 
hundred to one against our ending up alone together 
like this." 

"I like people who are ready to do things without 
planning them ahead," she said. 

"Isn't Bob the ready kind?" he asked, meaning the 
sun god left standing on his clay feet at the hotel bar. 

"Oh, Bob . . ." The way his name trailed off told 
practically everything. "Bob is something like me. Only 



174 



he isn't quite up to me. So he bores me. And anyway, 
I like people who do something. All Bob did was inherit 
money. He ..." Then she swung the rudder on the con- 
versation. "What're we talking about Bob for? Bob's al- 
ways around to talk about. How about you? You aren't 
just a rich kid. I know you do something." 

"Eleven months a year I'm a commercial artist. A 
pretty good one. The other month, I go away somewhere, 
Tehuantepec last year, Key West this time, and try to 
paint for myself. A sailor rowing in Central Park. Awful 
one-sided compromise." 

"But better than nothing," she said, and they talked a 
little about painting, nothing too flossy, about actual 
techniques, and the local problems with light and damp- 
ness, and the things she said were more businesslike and 
practical than he would have expected. 

"You must have been painting a long time," he said. 
That WPA thing was a long way back now. 

"I don't really paint," she said. And then after a mo- 
ment of silence, "I don't do anything." 

"But I thought you didn't like people who don't do 
anything?" Paul said. He had meant it for banter. 

"Maybe I don't like myself." 

Then, abruptly finished with conversation, she said, 
"The hell with it. Let's swim." 

He saw her poise for a moment on the edge and then 
arch and knife cleanly into the dark water. He plunged 
in after her, expecting to tread water and splash around 
in the dark. But she was already moving off from the 
pier, her head bent low into the choppy sea as she exe- 
cuted her rapid crawl. Paul, an average swimmer, had to 
exert himself to keep up with her. Before they were fifty 
strokes out from the pier this swim had taken on a dis- 
concerting quality. When they passed the first marker a 
hundred yards beyond the landing Paul knew this was no 
hilarious midnight escapade. There was an intensity about 



175 



this swim out toward a dark, far horizon that made Paul 
realize he had gone beyond his depth into waters meas- 
ured in other ways than merely in fathoms. 

The sea water poured down his throat when he gasped 
for breath and his body ached to turn back. But he feared 
doing this might lose everything he had gained this 
evening, this strange, wonderful girl, this water-gypsy who 
had risen for him out of the sea. Yet there was a limit to 
his endurance and he was beginning, for the first time in 
his life, to reach the edges of it. His stomach tightened 
with the panicky feeling that his next stroke would 
double him up in a cramp of exhaustion. Alone with all 
the salt water, he was going to have to swallow his pride 
and turn back, slowly work his way into shore. Just 
then Gerry's face bobbed up close to his. 

"Hello," she said. She looked fresh and impish, and the 
sight of her so close to him revived him a little. 

"I'm hungry," she announced. "Let's go back." 

His stomach felt too full of ocean water for an appetite, 
but when he finally managed to get back to the pier and 
climbed up beside Gerry he was suddenly exhilarated. Of 
course he was hungry. He was starved. He had kept up with 
Gerry Lawford, crazy Gerry Lawford, and he was ready for 
anything. 

They went skipping down Duvall Street, actually skip- 
ping like a couple of crazy kids, and when they reached 
the all-night Cuban place, they both had two helpings of 
black beans and yellow rice, washed down with beer Gerry 
drank from the bottle. "An oral regression to infancy," 
she called it, and they both laughed. They were laughing 
at things that were funny only to them and Paul felt 
sorry for anyone who didn't have a Gerry Lawford in his 
life. The years before Gerry fell away to a flat, arid desert 
of monotony. 

He walked her back to her hotel, the Southernmost 
House, it was called, an intriguing Victorian mansion of 



176 



towers and great porches that dominated the point where 
the Atlantic met the Gulf. He stopped in for a nightcap at 
the old oak bar that looked out on the sea, and when they 
paused for a moment on the great balcony and listened to 
the waves, the night and what they had made of it 
suddenly gave him the courage, and he kissed her, feel- 
ing the recklessness, the restlessness passing from her 
lips to his. Then, with her kind of suddenness, she broke 
away. 

"Let's go conching in the morning. Call for me early — 
say between eight and nine. I'll show you how the real 
conchs do it." 

Her door closed him off from her so suddenly that he 
was left with the effect of her having vanished from his 
side in some metaphysical way. He could almost have be- 
lieved this hadn't happened at all and that their evening 
had been simply an extension of his daydream. He walked 
back slowly to his hotel with his mind still flooded with 
the vision of that afternoon's golden sweep across the sun- 
lit sea. 

Every morning since he had come to Key West, Paul 
had slept late, counting that one of his chief vacation 
pleasures. But this next morning he was up in time to 
see the clouds opening up for the early sun to pour 
through. Even the pelicans were still asleep, drifting idly 
in small groups, rocking gently with the tide. Paul pulled 
on some ducks and a sport shirt and went down to the 
beach. Suddenly, as if by signal, all the pelicans rose 
together and went flapping out to sea on some urgent 
pelican business. Paul realized this was the first day since 
he had come to Key West that he was really alive. He 
thought about Gerry, and, for the first time, about her al- 
ways being with him. The only trouble was, he couldn't 
quite see her in his tailored New York apartment. It was 
a little like bringing home to captivity some wild bird 
whose home is the open sea. He was in love with her, 



THE DARE 177 

though, in a way he had not imagined a man of his tem- 
perament could be. 

He walked down the beach to the Southernmost and 
when he didn't find her on the downstairs porch, he went 
up and knocked on her door. 

"Come on in, Paul," she called and he entered to find 
her in white ducks with the legs rolled up to her knees, 
and an old sweatshirt. But somehow these had the effect 
of heightening rather than smothering her beauty. She 
was squatting on the floor finishing a hurried water color. 
Strangely, it was the scene Paul had been watching from 
the beach, the pelicans rising in formation from the rose 
water of the morning sea. It was done in swift, fluid 
strokes, and the rose color was redder, stronger than it 
had been. The peace and tranquillity of the scene that 
had impressed Paul on the beach was translated into dis- 
turbing colors and broken lines. Thumb-tacked on the 
walls were half a dozen other seascapes, all blurs and 
sudden strokes of color, suggesting rather than represent- 
ing, all catching some of the recklessness and vitality that 
Gerry brought to everything she did. 

"These are all yours?" It wasn't really a question, 
merely an opener. 

"Just splashing around." 

"But they're damn good." 

"My God, Paul, I was only playing. Don't look so 
serious." 

"But they're — they're big league. You should do some- 
thing with them." 

"I will, darling. I'll give them to you." 

She jumped up, and with a little mock curtsey handed 
Paul the one she had just finished. "To remember me 
by." She laughed. 

He took the picture, beginning to say something serious, 
trying to make it sound not too pompous, but she cut him 
off. "Hell with it. Let's gro conchin^." 



178 



They walked down the street to the Negro "beach," a 
narrow, rocky promontory where the rowboats were pulled 
up. They carried the one they were going to use out over 
the rocks and pushed off. She showed him how to pole it, 
and then, when they were out a little way, she said, "Let's 
see if we can catch ourselves some crawfish first." He 
held the boat for her while she poised the long three- 
pronged spear over the surface and peered down through 
the single fathom of light-green water to the edge of the 
shoal at the bottom. Suddenly the spear shot into the 
water and when she pulled it up the prongs were fastened 
to a small speckled brown lobster. Paul tried it after that 
but even after he spied one on the bottom, the deceptive 
angle of the spear beneath the surface made him overshoot 
the target. It was much harder than it looked. 

She tried it again, and when she brought up a larger 
one, lost interest in the spear. 

"Conching's more fun," Gerry said. 'Til show you how 
we dive for them." Fixing a large circular glass to her eyes, 
she dived nimbly over the side. Paul was fascinated to watch 
her glide down through the twinkling green water to the 
rocks below. Watching her move along the bottom with 
slow-motion grace, he was reminded again of his earlier 
vision of her as a mermaid called up from the depths by 
his imagination. 

But just then she popped up through the surface, cry- 
ing, "Eureka!" triumphantly holding up a good-sized 
Queen conch. 

She slithered over into the boat and handed Paul the 
goggles. "I know what let's do. Let's see who can stay 
down the longest." She said it as a child might, as a spur- 
of-the-moment dare. But Paul, remembering last night's 
swim, feared it might develop into more of an ordeal. 

"But we haven't got a watch, Gerry." 

"Oh, we can count, one-and-two-and . . ." She gave 



THE DARE 179 

him the beat. "Oh, come on. It's beautiful down there. 
It's fun to stay down." 

Paul adjusted the goggles, inhaled until his temples be- 
gan to pound, and dived. As Gerry had promised, he found 
himself enveloped in a shimmering green world more 
beautiful than he had imagined. He gripped a rock at the 
bottom to hold himself from rising and groped along, 
pleased with his unfolding ability to measure up to Gerry's 
adventures. He wondered how much time had passed. He 
had begun keeping track but a large octopus that turned 
out to be a massive undersea growth had frightened him 
off his count. Water was slowly seeping in under the 
rubber rims of the goggles and his eyes were beginning to 
smart. Then his ears were aching and he had a sense of 
being squeezed within green walls that were pressing down 
and in and up at him. He thought he saw a conch a few 
feet ahead of him, but that was too far now. His lungs 
were ready to explode. Why, a man could die, die down 
here to prove something. But what? What did it mean 
to Gerry? He was shooting up toward the surface now, 
flailing his arms with mounting frenzy as he wondered if 
he could make it in time. 

Then his head was above water at last and he was 
breathing, breathing, that first and last of luxuries. 

"Ninety-three," Gerry called. "Paul, I'm proud of you." 
The praise, the smile, the warm camaraderie completely 
erased his choking panic of a moment before. 

"Now count for me . . ." She could hardly wait to 
get the goggles on and be over the side again. She was 
gone in a swift little dive that hardly disturbed the calm 
surface. 

Fifty . . . He could see her gliding leisurely along the 
bottom. Seventy-five . . . ninety . . . Soon she had passed 
his record and he waited for her to pop to the sur- 
face, chortling over her triumph. But she was staying 



180 



down. One hundred . . . one hundred-and-twenty-five 
. . . He peered down anxiously. She wasn't moving any 
longer. Just seemed to be sitting there — the mermaid 
again — at home on the bottom of the sea. One hundred- 
and-fifty . . . sixty . . . seventy-five . . . And this count 
slower than seconds — that was three minutes! The pulse 
of panic began to thump in his throat . . . No one could 
stay down that long . . . Suddenly he remembered those 
nightmare stories of giant shellfish that clamp down on a 
swimmer's hands . . . Somewhere he had read how a 
Marine had been lost that way in the South Pacific . . . 

In this same moment he dived, reached her, groped for 
her and they shot up to the surface together. 

"Gerry — Gerry — are you all right?" 

"Of course." She laughed. "I was just getting ready to 
come up. How high did you count?" 

"One hundred-and-seventy-five." 

"Dare me to stay down for two hundred?" 

"Frankly," Paul said, "I've had enough diving for one 
morning. You won't be satisfied till the Coast Guard drags 
the bottom for you." 

"Okay," she said, completely unconcerned. "Do you 
like conch? The couple who run the Southernmost are 
friends of mine. We can take these right in their kitchen 
and start working on them. I lived on these things one 
season down here when you could've turned me upside 
down and shaken me and never found a nickel." 

That day Paul felt as if he were gliding through life 
on skis the way Gerry had skimmed the surface of the sea. 
The lunch on the sun porch of the Southernmost, the 
walk through town to the fishing docks; the long talk 
on the beach; the cocktails at sunset, the fun of drinking 
together and the marvelous sense of growing intimacy; 
and finally the moonlight dance in the patio and Gerry 
Lawford, this crazy, unpredictable, magical girl, in his 
arms at last. His lips were against her golden cheeks and 
even the smell of her was of some fresh wild berry that 



THE DARE 181 

one finds on the hills. Later tonight, or perhaps tomorrow, 
he would ask her. He was already trying it, phrasing it, 
like a stage bit player with one line to perfect: Gerry, 
you said you never turn down a dare. So, I dare you to 
marry me. 

The song was still "Because You're Mine," only this time 
Paul was much more tolerant of its sentimentality. Her lips 
were brushing his ear — his skin tingled with the pleasure 
of it — she was going to kiss him. Only instead, she was 
whispering, "Darling, feel like going swimming? Let's go 
swimming again." 

"Gerry," he said. "I'm still water-logged. Why don't we 
skip it tonight?" 

"I want to go swimming," she said. "At night I love to 
go swimming." 

"Baby, I — I just can't tonight. I love you. I'm lost in 
you. I want to marry you. But if we start swimming out 
tonight, you know what'll happen, you'll dare me to see 
which one of us can swim out the farthest. I'll bust a gut 
trying to keep up with you and . . ." 

"All right, don't swim with me. I'll swim alone. I like 
to swim alone." She was glaring at him and the wildness 
was a new kind, and he thought he knew for the first 
time what the General meant. 

"Gerry, why get so angry? Tonight let's just dance and 
have some drinks. Maybe tomorrow night we can swim." 

"I don't want you to swim with me," she said. "I'm 
going swimming alone. I'm going now." 

For a moment Paul considered following her. But then 
he thought, she's high-strung, she can't stay up at that 
pitch all the time without having these moods. I'll let 
her work her way out of it and send her flowers in the 
morning. By lunch time she'll be thinking up some new 
crazy stunt and daring me to follow. 

The next morning Paul reverted and slept late. When 
he went downstairs to breakfast, everyone was talking 



182 



about it. The Coast Guard was still searching for the 
body, he heard people say. But she was such a wonderful 
swimmer, he heard people say. She was always such a 
happy-go-lucky, such a high-spirited girl, it doesn't seem 
possible she'd do a thing like that, he heard people say. 

He walked slowly out to the edge of the point and 
looked across the sea. The sun was high and the waters 
were smooth. He had no idea how long he had stood 
there, or when the truth first flashed for him, but when it 
did he was sure he had known it from that first moment of 
fear and wonder when she had seemed bent on crashing 
into the pier. It was so simple now. Gerry's courage had 
been fool's gold, not really courage at all. Only the wish 
to die. When he cupped his hands to light a cigarette he 
saw how they were trembling. He stood a long time that 
morning at the sea wall. 

By the time the sun was lowering toward the horizon, 
the first shock was easing off into a kind of numb sub- 
mission, a sense of inevitability, of having entered for a 
few stolen moments into a shadow-world. For he was no 
longer sure whether Gerry Lawford and their first day, 
their second, and their last, had really happened. Or 
whether a mermaid, a water-gypsy, turned mortal for a 
day, had merely swum home to the green depths out of 
which she had come. 



183 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 



Between you and your childhood is a wall. You struggle 
with some half-remembered incident and it is like a loose 
stone in the wall. The loose stone may be a chance word 
or two or some almost forgotten person out of the past 
who jostles the memory — in this story the memory of a 
young man who thought he had forgotten the confining 
complexity of his four-year-old world. Tommy is eighteen 
now and his mind is busy with the present and the 
future. It isn't easy for him to point his mind back into 
the past when he was four years old and lived with three 
big people in a big city. He knew one as Mama and one 
as Daddy, but last and most important was the one he 
called Winnie. 

Tommy remembered Winnie. Tommy remembered 
how he loved Winnie. When he was four years old he was 
pleased by the color of her. There was a sense of something 



184 



that came down to him over the side of his bed, some- 
thing soothing to him. It was the voice, a warm, quiet, 
affectionate voice, and a way of touching him that was 
both playful and respectful. Of course when Tommy was 
four years old he did not know that he wished to be re- 
spected. This only came to him when he was able to look 
back, as he was doing now. All he knew then was that a 
certain kind of contact made him laugh or smile or just 
feel good without having to smile. It was Winnie who 
knew best how to do this sort of thing. It was not what 
Mama and Daddy liked to do, which was to get a re- 
sponse out of him whether he felt like it or not. They 
liked to hear Tommy break out into a certain kind of 
laugh and often they would tickle him or fuss with him 
until they got him to make the kind of sound they were 
waiting for. Sometimes they would have him do this for 
their guests. It would make everybody laugh and then 
they would all go downstairs to their cocktails feeling sat- 
isfied. 

Then Winnie would come. He would not see his parents 
again until the lights were out and he was almost too 
sleepy to know whether or not they had remembered their 
promise to come up and kiss him good night. Meanwhile 
he would have Winnie. Winnie with her assured way of 
talking to him, her way of knowing when to play or use 
playful talk and when to leave him alone to his thoughts. 
Winnie understood things like that. She made him feel 
like somebody, not just something to play with and 
show off to friends. For instance, if Tommy was examining 
a door knob, as he often liked to do, she would not gush 
all over him and say, "Ooh, Tommy likes the door knob? 
Tommy likes the door knob!" and then laugh absurdly. 
Winnie simply would say, "You see, Tommy, now you 
know how it works, and when you want to lock or unlock 
it you turn this latch up above — here." 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 185 

And she would show him once and expect him to know 
how to do it. 

So it was all these things, the voice and the manner, her 
way of treating him as one human being to another, her 
soothing color — or maybe it was the many things he loved 
about Winnie that made the color seem nice, too. 

He couldn't remember how far back he remembered 
the color, for Winnie had tended him in his crib and 
attended his graduation from the crib to his first real bed. 
In those first years with Winnie he didn't know — or he 
didn't know he knew — that there was anything special 
about the color of Winnie as compared with the color of 
Mama and Daddy. Daddy was whitish except for his 
chin and the sides of his face that were a sort of bluish. 
Mama was a sort of pale pink with red lips and often 
she had some flaky white stuff on her nose and reddish- 
orange circles on her cheeks. But Winnie was the color of 
the coffee that Daddy liked to drink with the cream in it. 
Sometimes Daddy would let Tommy pour the cream. 
Tommy didn't know why, but it made him feel very im- 
portant when he poured the cream into his daddy's coffee. 
One morning when he felt he was pouring especially well, 
he said, 'Took, Daddy, I'm making a Winnie color." 

Daddy made a face and looked around as if Tommy had 
said something bad. Tommy could not understand the 
look on Daddy's face. He always felt nervous when his 
father got that look on his face. Tommy knew he had 
done something wrong but he could not imagine what it 
could be. 

Daddy looked at his son very solemnly. "Tommy, I want 
you to remember this," he said. "You must never never 
mention Winnie's color again. It is not nice to talk about 
people's color." 

But that summer they had gone to the shore and 
Tommy remembered friends of Mama's telling her what 



186 



a wonderful tan she had. Yes, and what about Daddy, 
picking Tommy up in his arms and saying, "Our little 
puppy — he's getting as brown as an Indian." What about 
Daddy? If it was all right to talk about people's color 
sometimes, why wasn't it . . . 

He had been ready to point this out to Daddy, but his 
father would not let him talk. 

"I want no argument about this, Tommy. Just remem- 
ber, it is not nice, it is never good manners, to talk about 
people's color. Do you understand?" 

"Yes, Daddy," Tommy said. He frowned very hard, 
the way he had seen his father do when he was listening 
to somebody he did not agree with. But frowning did not 
make it any clearer. 

"Now run along and let Daddy read his paper." 

Daddy mussed Tommy's "rat's nest," as Mama called 
his curly straw-colored hair, and smiled to show that he 
was no longer angry and that he considered the incident 
closed. 

Tommy went up to his room to be alone with his 
thoughts. Why, oh why was it bad manners to mention 
the color of a person? It was only a year or so before that 
he had learned his colors and Mama had been very proud 
of how quick he was in telling blue from green and red 
from yellow. And then he would say, "That sheep is 
white/' and, "That cow is brown/' and Mama would hug 
him and say, "Wonderful, Tommy!" and have him do it 
all over again when Daddy came home from work. Now 
if it wasn't bad manners to know the color of a sheep or 
a cow, why was it so wrong to say the color of a person? 

He thought he knew what his mother would say. Some- 
thing like, "Now Tommy, you're too young to worry 
about such things, just do as Daddy says." So he decided 
to ask Winnie. Winnie was his friend and would tell him 
the truth if she knew. 

That evening after Daddy and Mama had gone out 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 187 

for dinner, he and Winnie were alone in the nursery and 
she was reading to him about Winnie the Pooh. He always 
thought that was very funny. Instead of Christopher, 
she would use his name in the story, so it would be Tommy 
Robin and Winnie the Pooh. That always made him laugh. 
Sometimes he would call her Winnie the Pooh. Usually, 
as soon as she had finished the story-poem, Tommy would 
say, ''Oh, again! again!" Often Winnie would have to 
read it five or six times before he had had enough of 
it for one evening. But this time, when she had read 
through it once, he didn't say, "Again! Again!" He made 
a frown face like his daddy's and looked at Winnie, looked 
and looked at her without saying a word. 

Finally Winnie gave a little laugh and said, "Tommy, 
what's wrong? Do you see something on my face?" 

"You have a nice coffee-'n-cream-color face," Tommy 
said. 

"Thank you, Tommy," Winnie said. "I'm glad you 
think it's a nice coffee-'n-cream-color face." 

"But Winnie Pooh, why is it bad manners to say it's a 
nice coffee-color face?" 

"What on earth are you talking about, Tommy boy?" 
she said. And she nibbled his ear a little bit. From 
the time when he was a little baby he had loved to have 
her nibble his ear. 

He told her about pouring the cream on his daddy's 
coffee and what Daddy had said about never mentioning 
Winnie's color again. But he liked Winnie's color, he said. 
It was a lot prettier color than a pale white or a silly old 
pink. And it was true. He would always remember Win- 
nie's color. It wasn't exactly cream-in-coffee. It was a light 
golden brown, something like honey color. It was — 
thought Tommy for many years — just the right color for 
skin to be. 

Winnie took him on her lap. She raised her hand to 
squeeze his ear lobe gently — he always liked her to do 



188 



that too — and he noticed, perhaps for the first time, that 
the palm of her hand was quite white, as white as Mama's. 
He felt confused by all this white-and-coffee-color differ- 
ence. There was something about it, he was beginning 
to sense, that was very big, like the night and the sky and 
death, something that was outside of him and yet that 
he was a part of and would have to try and understand. 

"Tommy, I wouldn't say this to every four-and-a-half- 
year-old boy," Winnie began, "but you have good sense. 
Some people can understand things at four that other 
people won't understand when they're forty-four. There's 
nothing really wrong with saying what color a person is. 
I don't mind being my color. I think it's a nice color, too. 
The reason why your daddy says it isn't nice to mention 
it is because most people are glad to be white. They're 
afraid their being white and my being coffee color will hurt 
my feelings. But there's nothing wrong with being coffee 
color. The only thing wrong is the way some people feel 
about other people being coffee color or chocolate brown 
or coal black." 

"Chocolate brown is a nice color, too," Tommy said. 

Winnie nuzzled his cheek and said, "Maybe the time 
will come when people will all be just people and won't 
pay no mind to whether they're coffee color or peppermint 
stripe." 

"Peppermint stripe would be fun," Tommy giggled. 

"Children are the nicest people," Winnie said. "Children 
just seem to start out knowing all the things that big people 
forget and sometimes never get to know again." 

Tommy was pleased. While he understood this only a 
little better than what his daddy had said (and mostly 
not said) at breakfast, he knew that Winnie was trying to 
talk to him as a person, the same way she explained door 
knobs and other interesting things to him. He still felt 
pretty puzzled, but somehow he was reassured. He hugged 
Winnie and squirmed his face into her neck. "I wish I 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 189 

could grow up to be your color, Winnie Pooh," he said. 

Winnie laughed, and then looked at him sadly, but with 
her eyes still smiling. 

"You're a something," she said, as she often did, and the 
sound always pleased him, though he didn't know why. 
"You're really a something." 

One evening when Tommy was almost five, Mama and 
Daddy came to his bedside to tell him they had to take a 
trip to California. They would be back as soon as possible 
and they hoped he would not mind. 

"Is Winnie going?" Tommy wanted to know. 

"Of course not, Tommy. Winnie will be here with you." 

"As long as Winnie stays I don't care how long you'll 
be away," Tommy said. 

Tommy's mother started to cry. She was so hurt that for 
a few minutes, until Daddy talked her out of it, she was 
saying that she would never be able to go and enjoy her- 
self if she thought her baby no longer knew who his 
mother was. Tommy didn't want to make his mother cry, 
but it all seemed silly. He liked his mother tucking him in 
at night. But she wasn't Winnie. His mother was always 
going and coming and talking on the phone. She was ter- 
ribly busy doing things that had nothing to do with 
Tommy. Winnie was with him all the time. All except one 
day a week when she went off somewhere and left him 
alone. She always brought him something when she came 
back. Tommy would run out and throw his arms around 
her and nuzzle into her neck and say, "Winnie, Winnie 
Pooh, what did you bring me?" And Winnie would say, 
"Oh, nothing, why? Do you think I have to bring you 
something every time I come back?" And Tommy would 
laugh and start hunting for his present, in the pocket of her 
coat, or in one of her clenched hands, or in her purse or 
even inside her gloves. It was one of their favorite games. 
It was great fun. It was always easy to find. Sometimes when 
Daddy played jokes like that he made it too hard to find 



190 



and Tommy would get tired and his daddy would tell him 
he must learn not to give up so easily and then it wasn't 
fun any more. 

About the best fun he ever had was the first week when 
he was alone with Winnie while Mama and Daddy were 
off in California. He had her all to himself at last. Though 
the memory of it would fade later on, he would never for- 
get entirely the pleasure of being a small boy alone in the 
house with Winnie. He would remember how soft and 
warm Winnie felt in bed beside him and how good it was 
to curl up against her. Tommy liked to pull the covers 
right over both their heads and play tent and pretend 
there were wild bears prowling around in the forest of the 
bedroom. Winnie would play with him as long as he 
wanted and she was very good at pretending about bears. 
Most big people didn't know how to pretend, but Winnie 
did. 

The first Sunday afternoon they were alone was 
Winnie's regular day off, but since she would be unable to 
have any time off until Tommy's people were back from 
California, Winnie decided to take Tommy with her for a 
visit to her sister and brother-in-law's. He noticed that 
Winnie's sister Cloretta wasn't light coffee brown like 
Winnie. She wasn't as pretty and warm-skin-looking at all. 
Why, she was as white as Mama and Daddy. When he real- 
ized that, he was glad in a way. Winnie was his special per- 
son and it seemed right that she should be a special color, 
the color of maple candy, taffy, honey and all the good 
things that he liked. 

There were two people who asked him to call them his 
Aunt Cloretta and Uncle Floyd, both white and offering 
him candy and gum, and then there was a friend of the 
strange Uncle Floyd called George. George worked with 
Uncle Floyd in some kind of business. All during the after- 
noon George kept looking at Winnie. They thought 
Tommy was busy exploring and eating candy but he could 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 191 

see the way the man was looking at her. He kept looking 
at her, and even when the others were talking he kept 
looking at her. 

George said he had a brand-new car and he wondered if 
Winnie would like to go for a turn around the block with 
him. Winnie looked at George and then at Tommy and 
acted as if she could not make up her mind between them. 
Her sister Cloretta said, "Go ahead, Winnie. I think it'll 
be nice for you. We'll keep an eye on Tommy for you un- 
til you get back." Tommy didn't want Winnie to go off 
and leave him, even with these people who gave him candy 
and gum. Tommy was very glad when he heard Winnie 
say, "I'd better not. I gave his folks my word I wouldn't 
let him out of my sight until they came home." 

"Then let's take the kid with us," George said. "You'd 
like to go for an auto ride, wouldn't you, sonny?" 

Years later Tommy would not recall what George 
looked like. But he would be able to recall how he had 
feared and distrusted this stranger, who was paying more 
attention to his Winnie than anyone ever had before. 

When it was time for Winnie to take Tommy home, 
George said, "I sure envy you, kiddo. All alone in a house 
with a beautiful gal like that." 

He was looking right at Winnie. Winnie told him to 
hush. Tommy couldn't tell whether Winnie was angry or 
pleased. George insisted on driving Winnie and Tommy 
home. George did all the talking. He told Winnie about 
his job and the things he wanted to do. He said he was a 
surveyor for the county, working under Floyd. When they 
saved up enough money they were thinking of going into 
private business together. George said he would like to 
live out of town — a little house in the country where he 
could keep a few chickens and grow his own vegetables — 
but first he had to find the right girl. Tommy did not like 
the way he kept looking at Winnie. Or the way he went on 
talking to Winnie, just as if Tommy wasn't there at all. 



192 



And it made him feel irritable that Winnie kept her head 
turned around toward this other man and was hardly 
bothering to look at him. He was used to having Winnie 
pay attention just to him and to nobody else. 

As Tommy got out of the car he slipped and fell down. 
He lay on the sidewalk and bawled and felt terribly in- 
jured and Winnie had to pick him up and kiss the spot 
where he had hurt himself. George stood around help- 
lessly, trying to tell Winnie, above Tommy's screaming, 
that he felt this was much more than a casual first meeting 
and that all he could think about was how soon he could 
see her again. Winnie hardly heard George, because she 
was so busy hugging Tommy and saying things to make 
him laugh so he would be himself again. She carried 
Tommy into the house and settled him down to his eve- 
ning routine. In the bathtub Tommy laughed until he was 
almost hysterical because it had been a hard day and the 
man was gone and Tommy and Winnie were together 
again. 

For the next few days Tommy did not notice anything 
different about Winnie. Then one night Tommy's lights 
were out — all but the one in the bathroom that was left to 
guide him through the darkness — and Tommy was sup- 
posed to be asleep, when he heard the murmur u£ 
grown-up talking. He thought maybe his mama and 
daddy had come home from California and he got up to 
find out what they had brought him. He hurried down 
into the living room and there was that man George talk- 
ing to Winnie. 

"Tommy, Tommy, it's after ten o'clock," Winnie said. 

"I have a stomach ache," said Tommy. 

"I think you're just tired and need your rest," Winnie 
said. 

"No, it hurts me, it hurts me here!' Jackie Coogan, in 
his most tragic moments, could not have pointed to his 
abdomen with a more piteous expression. 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 193 

"I think he's a little faker," that man George said. 

"But I can't take a chance," Winnie said. "He's like my 
own child." 

"You'd be tougher on your own kid," George said. 

All the while Tommy was whimpering as if trying to 
control himself while in great pain. 

"I'm afraid all this is making him nervous," Winnie 
said. 

"My God, you take care of him from daybreak until his 
bedtime, isn't that enough? Is he supposed to own you day 
and night? I think it's unwholesome." 

"Shh, please George, don't upset him," Winnie begged. 

"I'll see you Saturday night, Winnie," George said. And 
then he spoke to Tommy rather crossly. "Now you get 
over this bellyache business, son." 

Tommy kept waking up and complaining so often of 
feeling funny in his tummy that Winnie let him sleep in 
her bed the rest of the night. "Tommy boy, maybe I am 
spoiling you, but you're my own little Tommy boy, aren't 
you, my own little Tommy boy." Tommy wished that 
night would never end and that he could just go on and on 
safely cuddled up against Winnie in Winnie's bed. 

When Saturday night came Tommy got up an extra 
time to get a drink of water. Winnie came in to warn him 
not to use any more excuses for getting out of bed. He 
noticed something special about Winnie. She had red stuf: 
on her lips like Mama and she was wearing a dark purple 
dress instead of one of the white or gray ones she always 
wore. And she had a flower in her hair. She looked very 
pretty with a flower in her hair, but Tommy knew what it 
meant. Tommy couldn't understand why she should pay 
so much attention to another grown-up when she was only 
supposed to look after Tommy. 

After Winnie turned off his lights again and kissed him 
good night, he stayed awake on purpose. After a while he 
heard the front door opening and there was a little 



194 



grown-up murmuring and then it got quiet again. He sat 
up and listened and then he swung himself carefully out 
of bed. It was double disobedience because he didn't even 
put his slippers on. He crept down the stairs and spied 
into the living room. Winnie was on the couch with that 
man George and he had his arm around her and she was 
letting him kiss her. She said in a funny kind of whisper, 
"George, George, stop," as if she were frightened, but he 
kept on holding her very hard and pushing his mouth 
against hers and she sort of sobbed as if she were crying, 
"Oh George, George darling, what are we going to do?" 
and he said in that definite way he had, "We're going to 
get married, that's what we're going to do." Then Winnie 
said, "George, I don't know, I know we love each other, 
but . . ." 

George interrupted. Tommy was very conscious of it, 
because he had been warned so many times not to do that. 
His voice sounded awfully mean and angry to Tommy. 
"To hell with it. That doesn't worry me. I want you, Win, 
and I don't care how it looks to a lot of narrow-minded 
dopes." Winnie's answer was so much softer that Tommy 
could hardly hear it. "I know, I know, darling, if we could 
go away somewhere, but here in this country people 
would . . ." 

"The hell with 'em," George kept saying. "I say the hell 
with 'em. The hell with 'em." 

"If I looked like Cloretta," Winnie said. "If I could 
pass . . ." 

"You're twice as beautiful as Cloretta," George said. 
"You're beautiful, Win. Just keep remembering that. 
You're beautiful and — and — a wonderful human being." 

"George, I want to," she said. "You know I want to, but 
I want to think. I'm not sure. I'm afraid." 

"Well, I'm not," George said. "I still say the hell with 
'em." He started kissing her again. 

Tommy went back to his room and started playing boat 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 195 

in his bed and pretty soon he had all the blankets on the 
floor and then the sheets were pulled out from the mat- 
tress. He got to doing jumping tricks on the bare mattress 
and he pulled the pillow out of the pillow case and then 
he pulled the pillow case over his head and kept on jump- 
ing up and down higher and higher until he toppled off 
the bed and bumped his funny bone. 

Winnie came running in and saw the tangle of bed- 
clothes and Tommy suffering on the floor and this time 
she didn't feel sorry about the bump on his funny bone 
(which seemed to have spread to his head as well), she 
was angry at all this extra work he had made for her to do 
and she said, ''Tommy, you're a little rascal. I'm really 
angry this time." Tommy looked up at her as if his time 
in this world was running out. "Has the man gone?" Then 
she got even angrier and she said, "That is no business of 
yours," and Tommy lost his temper and scratched her and 
she lashed out and slapped him for the first time in her 
life and Tommy got purple red in the face and bit her 
hard on the arm and she screamed and grappled with him 
and threw him down on the bed with all her might. Then 
they both cried hysterically. 

Later he crept into her bed and she seemed glad he had 
come and kissed him and hugged him and called him her 
own darling little Tommy boy. Tommy thought about 
her kissing that grown-up George and he put his arms 
tight around her to keep her from getting away. 

In the days after that Tommy noticed things about 
Winnie he did not always know he was noticing but that 
he would be able to remember later on when he was old 
enough to look back and see the whole thing as a life and 
not just as bits and pieces of the troubles and pleasures of 
being four. Winnie was very good to him, but she was 
edgy and moody. Once while she was rocking Tommy in 
her arms she started to cry for no reason at all. Tommy 
remembered snatches of a strange conversation in the 



196 



kitchen between Cloretta and Winnie when he was sup- 
posed to be playing outside one afternoon. He couldn't re- 
member all the words but he could remember that 
Cloretta wanted Winnie to marry their friend George. 
And Winnie said she couldn't make up her mind, because 
there would always be the problem of where they could 
live and what to do about children. Cloretta said she and 
Floyd had been afraid of that, too, and they were solving 
it by not taking any chances. Winnie shook her head and 
said she wasn't sure she could do that, she loved children 
and would love to have George's children, but something 
inside her told her it was wrong. Cloretta put her white 
arms around the creamy coffee-color shoulders of her sister 
and told her the right thing to do was the thing 
she, Winnie, wanted to do — that Winnie had always made 
herself too much of a doormat for the people she worked 
for — "like the way you work yourself to the bone for that 
little brat Tommy." It was time that Winifred Harris 
started living Winifred's life, Cloretta said, and wasn't just 
some white folks' Winnie. Tommy knew that Aunt 
Cloretta wasn't his aunt and that she was on George's side 
and that if they had their way they would take Winnie 
away from him forever. Tommy hated them and wished 
he could dump them all in the garbage truck, and he 
thought of all the horrible things he would like to do to 
them for trying to steal his one and only Winnie Pooh 
away from the Tommy she belonged to. He could not un- 
derstand why grown-ups were so mean. Except for 
Winnie — and even she had been playing some no-fair 
tricks on him lately — there weren't any grown-ups in the 
world who really cared about Tommy. 

One evening when Winnie was serving Tommy his tap- 
ioca pudding, he said, "Winnie, are you going to go away 
and leave me and marry that man and never come back 
here ever again?" 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 197 

Winnie said, "Why, Tommy, you know I'd never leave 
you alone. What gave you that idea?" 

"I heard you talking with Aunt Cloretta." 
"Goodness me, little boys have big ears." Then she said, 
"Tommy, it's true that I'm thinking of marrying Mr. 
Higbee. I'm twenty-eight, and well, most people my age 
have been married for years. Your mama and daddy were 
married before they were twenty-eight and you, why 
you're going to be so handsome that some nice girl is sure 
to grab you long before you're twenty-eight. But don't you 
worry that I'm going to leave you until your mother and 
father are back and we've found someone else to take my 
place. I have a cousin called Emily who is awfully sweet 
and who would just love to take care of a nice little boy 
like you. And I'll bet pretty soon you'd forget all about 
your old Winnie and you'd love your new Emmy Pooh 
even more." 

"I don't want you to leave me," Tommy said. "I want 
you to stay with me for ever and ever." 

"I wish you couldn't hear through walls so well," 
Winnie said, "because this whole thing may never even 
happen at all. So there's no sense worrying about it ahead of 
time. I'm not going to leave you for a long, long time no 
matter what happens." Then she hugged him, squeezed his 
ear lobe and said, "I'll probably stay with you so long that 
you'll be the one who finally wants to get rid of me." 

"I never never will, Winnie Pooh," Tommy said. "I 
want you to stay with me for ever and ever." 

"Now eat your tapioca," she said. "You are a something. 
Only four years old and worrying about these grown-up 
things." 

The big thing that happened to Winnie Tommy 
remembered very well. It was like the "Winnie-color" talk 
he had had with his daddy at breakfast. It was one of the 
things that made Tommy acutely conscious of Winnie as a 



198 



color instead of just as a person with a kind of skin that 
seemed particularly pleasing to him. Maybe Tommy 
remembered this scene because it was so loud, even louder 
and more frightening than George had been. Or maybe it 
was because he had been old enough to realize — even at 
going on five — that his rivalry with George had come to its 
turning point. 

Late that Sunday afternoon Winnie's mother and father 
had come to visit. He was a large man with a muscular 
paunch, reddish, gray-streaked hair and a mottled, orange- 
freckled face. She was shorter than Winnie and a little 
dumpy, but the color of her skin was almost exactly the 
same as Winnie's, only maybe just a shade darker, as when 
you're making chocolate milk and you put in a few extra 
drops to make it just a bit more chocolaty. They seemed 
to be polite, dignified people, and everything was per- 
fectly peaceful and friendly until Winnie put Tommy to 
bed. Tommy had half-forgotten about George and he had 
run his legs off all day and he went off to sleep without 
even thinking of the second glass of water. But in the 
middle of the night a terrible grown-up shout from down- 
stairs shook him out of his sleep and made him feel all 
trembly and scared inside. 

"You're a nigger! Never forget you're a nigger!" 

The strange, ugly word shook the house. Tommy sat up 
in bed, and though he had never heard the word before he 
knew in some instinctively wise way that it had something 
to do with his daddy's saying, "Never, never mention her 
color again." Tommy did not understand, but he knew 
there was some problem of one person being white and 
another person being coffee color that made grown-ups 
terribly nervous and angry and confused and violent. 

Tommy crept halfway down the stairs and peered 
through the slats of the banister. He could see Winnie's 
father, but he could not see Winnie. Winnie's father was 
angrier than he had ever seen anybody in his life. He had 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 199 

seen Mama and Daddy arguing, but he had never seen one 
grown-up bawling out another one the way this big man 
with the freckled pumpkin-color face was bawling out 
poor Winnie the Pooh. "You're a nigger," he was shout- 
ing, and the word cut through the house like an angry 
whip. "Maybe you're ninety-nine and ninety-nine one- 
hundredths per cent white, but you're still a nigger. And 
niggers don't marry white men. Maybe in the last world 
and maybe in the next but not in this one, God damn it. 
What if your baby is white? He'll grow up to hate you! 
And what if he's black or high yeller like you? Your hus- 
band'll hate him. And what if you don't have any, like 
Cloretta? You'll end up hating each other. God damn it, I 
tell you, Winifred, we won't allow it. We don't want to see 
no more trouble in this miserable world than there's in it 
already. Look at me, a high-school education, but a redcap 
all my life because I got a drop or two of the wrong kind 
of blood in me. Somewhere back there in your great- 
granddaddy's time some white man started this thing and 
now we got a family that ain't black and ain't white, just 
a bunch o' poor miserable nigger in-betweeners. So I say, 
no, we won't let you. It's bad enough with Cloretta who 
we always feel funny about visiting because she's living 
white. But you've got color in your skin and you can't rub 
it off by marrying white." 

Tommy didn't hear anything from Winnie. He heard 
Winnie's mother say in a honey-soft voice, "Baby, Papa's 
not mad at you. He's just mad at the way things happen 
sometimes. But he loves you like I do and he's trying to 
help you from getting into something that'll hurt you later 
on." 

It wasn't her father's angry voice, but her mother's soft 
and loving one, that made her cry. She got crying the way 
Tommy did sometimes when he started choking on his 
sobs. It wasn't the soft, wet kind of crying, but the dry, 
hard kind that gets tighter and tighter in your throat. It 



200 



sounded awful. It sounded as if she was dying. And when 
she ran out of the room and up the stairs she had her 
hands over her face and couldn't even see Tommy. She ran 
into her room and slammed the door and threw herself on 
the bed and cried that hard, dry cry for a long time into 
her pillow. It was awful hearing her cry like that. Tommy 
wanted to go in and see her, but he was afraid to. His 
daddy had been right to warn him. There was something 
powerful and evil about the color of a person. There was 
something about the color of a person's skin that was 
never, never to be mentioned in public. 

Tommy crawled back into bed and thought about that. 
He thought about that harder than he had ever thought 
about anything in his whole life. Then he turned on his 
light to go to the bathroom and Winnie heard him and 
came in. She wasn't crying any more. There was a kind of 
set look to her face that made her look very serious. 
"Tommy, you don't have to worry," she said. "I'm not 
going away. I'm not going to get married. I'm going to 
stay here with you as long as you need me." 

Boy, was Tommy happy! He jumped up and down on 
his bed and sang, "Winnie isn't leaving, Winnie isn't leav- 
ing, goodie, goodie, goo— ooodie, Winnie isn't leaving." 
Then he hugged her and bounced on her lap and chanted 
his kindergarten sing-song again and nuzzled into her 
neck. She nibbled on his ears and tried not to cry. He was 
so happy, so happy that it would take him many years to 
forget this moment of triumph. "Oh, goodie, oh, goodie, I 
knew you wouldn't leave me, I knew it, I knew it, I knew 
you wouldn't leave me," he sang. Winnie's eyes were wet 
with a strange, bitter kind of relief and she said, "Yes, I 
suppose I did too." Then she gave him a fond pat on the 
back flap of his Dr. Dentons. "Now scoot into bed. You 
should have been in bed hours ago. And I'm a little tired, 
too." 

Tommy settled back in bed with the lights out, smiling 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 201 

into the darkness and chanting, "I've got Winnie back, 
I've got Winnie back, I've got Winnie back . . ." 

Tommy kept waiting for the night when George would 
come and Winnie would tell him. It would serve him 
right for all the things he had done to Tommy. He had 
made Tommy realize for the first time what it might feel 
like to lose somebody you loved very, very much. It served 
him right. It served him right. 

But George never came to the house again. Whether 
Winnie phoned him or wrote him or just how she did it 
Tommy never knew. The little snapshot of George stayed 
on her dresser, but that was all. It stayed there for years. 
But later on Tommy would be able only vaguely to asso- 
ciate it with any actual person, much less an actual threat. 

When Mama and Daddy came home from California 
they were pleased to find everything in order. Tommy was 
in good health and fine spirits and the house was spotless. 
"Well, I'm glad to find everything so peaceful," Mama 
said. "Did anything happen?" "No ma'am," Winnie said. 
"Oh, yes, one night when it rained we had a leak in the 
upstairs hallway. But except for that, you'll find every- 
thing just about the same." 

Winnie stayed with Tommy's people for about nine 
more years, until Tommy was almost fourteen. When he 
was six they had had to scold Winnie for babying Tommy. 
She still tried to dress him when she should have known 
he was old enough to dress himself. Winnie couldn't seem 
to learn not to fuss around Tommy. She worried more 
than his mother about such things as his being out on 
drizzly days without his cap and rubbers. 

When he was fourteen, Tommy said, "Mom, Winnie's 
driving me nuts. She's always picking at me to wear this or 
do that. I wish she'd mind her own beeswax and leave me 
alone." 

Tommy's parents talked it over and decided, difficult as 



202 



it was to face, that Winnie had outlived her usefulness. 
She could not stop doing for him all those little things that 
no self-respecting teen-age boy can stand. "I dread having 
to tell her," Tommy's mother said. "She'll go off into one 
of those old-maid hysterics and I won't be able to stand it." 
So they gave Winnie a six-weeks' summer vacation and 
near the end of it they wrote her a letter explaining the 
situation, giving her a liberal severance pay and promising 
to keep their eyes open for another position for her. 

Early one fall when Tommy was getting ready to leave 
for college, Winnie came to call on them. She couldn't 
have picked a more inconvenient time, but she had meant 
something to them once and they didn't know how to turn 
her away without hurting her feelings. She said she hadn't 
seen Tommy since he was grown up and she hoped they 
wouldn't mind if she dropped in for just a few minutes, as 
she had loved him so much as a little boy that she just 
couldn't resist stopping in to see how he had turned out. 
Tommy was embarrassed at all this mushy stuff, but he 
remembered a few things about this old nurse of his, and 
as long as she didn't take too long he didn't really mind 
seeing her again. He couldn't remember too much about 
her, although now that he looked at her it began to come 
back to him about her high-yellow coloring. In the tinted 
picture in the family album she was quite handsome with 
her honey complexion and her dark, wavy hair dropping 
nicely to her shoulders. Her hair was streaky gray now and 
she wore it up in a rather severe, old-fashioned bun. Dad 
had said she had been "a knockout — a regular sun-tanned 
Loretta Young," but she looked faded and bony now, al- 
though she did have nice eyes. 

"So you're Tommy," she said. "To think you're my own 
little Tommy boy." 

Tommy squirmed. He wondered how long this was go- 



THE ONE HE CALLED WINNIE 203 

ing to take. He tried to think of something to say. "Well, 
how are you these days, Winnie?" 

She tried to make a joke of it. "Oh, all right, I guess. 
Still pretty spry for an old maid." 

The words were like stones in the wall that stood be- 
tween the eighteen-year-old Tom and the Tommy boy of 
his childhood. Loosening the stones that stood in the way 
of his remembering, he was thinking of his old Winnie, 
his Winnie Pooh, and once more he was stepping through 
into that dim yet feverish past when he had loved this 
coffee-colored stranger with all the narrow intensity that 
charges and confines a child's world. 



204 



ENOUGH 



I thought I had run the gamut of command posts, from 
half-destroyed farmhouses to elegant castles on the Rhine 
— but this one was the pay-off: an ancient little convent on 
a hillside overlooking a gingerbread Alsatian village and 
the German lines beyond. A special recon outfit with the 
7th Army lining up for the jump across the Rhine had 
moved in, but the sisters had not moved out, and so the 
two organizations were living side by side under the same 
roof, the French nuns industriously devoted to peace, the 
recon group industriously devoted to war. It was hard 
work, dangerous work, infiltrating enemy lines at night to 
determine troop movements and gun emplacements, but 
at evening mess most of the conversation was joke and 
banter, punctuated by the regular Jerry artillery fire that 
sounded as if it were passing directly overhead. "Alsace 



ENOUGH 205 

Alice," the youthful CO said. "She's been trying to find 
us for a week. She isn't even close tonight." 

The nun who served us conscientiously, silently, and 
without ever changing expression, as if she had lived all 
her life among American officers who sat down to dinner 
without taking off their 45's, refilled our empty coffee 
cups. The coffee was so good that nobody wanted to 
finish it, so we lingered over our cups, drawing slowly on 
the cigarettes or pipes we lit from the flickering candles 
that threw a soft yellow glow over the table. Everybody 
felt well fed and relaxed, the war, for the moment, wasn't 
breathing down our necks, and it was too early to crawl 
into our bed rolls. A good time for talking. At first we 
talked about the things that everybody in the ETO wanted 
to talk about that winter. How long the war would last, 
how long our guys would have to stay on after the super- 
men folded up, and what we'd do when we finally got 
back to the States again. I talked and the young CO talked 
and a lieutenant from Brooklyn, he talked plenty, and a 
former cavalry officer from Texas told us how he was 
going to open a riding academy in New York City. 

But the captain didn't say a word. He had a grave, 
weather-beaten face, and a slow, deliberate way of eating, 
of moving and of listening to what was being said. All I 
knew about him was what the CO had told me, that he 
was a professional, a company commander with the 1st 
Division. What he was doing down here in Alsace I wasn't 
told. Conversation was beginning to run down when I 
happened to mention Aachen. I forgot just what I said, 
something about the unbelievable destruction that was 
still new to me, something about the unexpected docility 
of the people there. 

Then, to draw him into the group, I asked the captain 
casually, "Let's see, the 1st Division was up around 
Aachen, wasn't it?" 



206 



The captain drew his cigarette from his mouth. "Yes, 
we were at Aachen," he said. 

"Rough, rough, hey, Captain?" said the lieutenant 
from Brooklyn. 

The captain waited so long that I thought that was the 
end of it. Finally he said, "My outfit was held up for 
sixty-four days outside of Aachen." 

"Heavy losses?" the CO asked. 

The captain drew another cigarette from his pack and 
offered the rest around. "By the time we got through, our 
battalion wasn't even a good-sized company. We finally 
got through it all right. But it was close, very close." 

He inhaled slowly, took the cigarette out of his mouth 
with that poised deliberateness of his and again I thought 
this might be all there was to it. But all of a sudden he 
was into his story. He told it with such an economy of 
words and emotions that it wasn't until he had finished 
that I realized what kind of story he had told. There 
wasn't much more to say after the captain got through. 
The CO blew out the stubby melted candles. I went up- 
stairs into one of the cold, narrow bedrooms that the 
nuns had evacuated for us, stripped down to my long- 
johns and wriggled into my bed roll. I closed my eyes, 
but I was still thinking about the captain and his story. 
After a few minutes I reached out for my flashlight, a 
pencil and pad, and, at the risk of burning out my 
battery — which at night in a theater of war is like losing 
the sight of both eyes — I tried to put the story down as 
the captain had told it. Not word for word, for I do not 
have that kind of memory, but next morning, as soon as 
it was light enough, I read it over and I felt satisfied 
that it was as close as I would ever get it to the way the 
captain told it. So here it is, a little better spelled, a 
little more legible, better punctuated here and there, but 
otherwise exactly as I had scribbled it down that night 



ENOUGH 207 

in the convent with the Fuhrer's artillery lobbing them 
systematically but futilely over our heads: 

I don't remember exactly when I first noticed Shapiro. 
(That's not his name, but if you don't mind, that's what 
I'll call him, because in view of what finally happened I 
think it would be better just to call him Shapiro and let 
it go at that.) I think the first time he came to my 
attention was on the transport going up from Africa. I 
was a company commander at the time. Ordinarily the 
only men I would have come in contact with were the 
lieutenants who lead my platoons and the sergeants who 
lead the squads. But the first day out, this lad Shapiro, a 
new replacement, was brought to my attention. Yes, 
that's right, now that I think of it I remember it very 
well. Sergeant McCardle reported him. He caught Shapiro 
lighting a cigarette on deck after dark. The first time he 
warned him, just warned him, that's all. But the next 
night he caught him again. Those were the days when 
the Heinie U-boats were raising hell with our convoys, 
so this was no joke. The second time McCardle reported 
him to me. "Sir, if you want to know what I think, he's a 
smart-aleck Jew-boy from Brooklyn," said McCardle. "If 
he's a soldier, I'm a rabbi." 

Now I hope I'm not offending anybody here with 
what I am about to say, but to tell the truth, I didn't 
look forward to the idea ,of having Jews in my outfit 
either. Not that I'm prejudiced or anything, I just had an 
idea that they weren't cut out for our kind of work. But 
of course I couldn't allow that sort of talk in my company. 
So I said, "Look here, McCardle, I'm not interested in a 
man's race or religion. All I care about is whether he 
toes the mark as a soldier or not." "Yes sir," said Mc- 
Cardle. He was a big, athletic, rugged-looking boy. A ball 
player from Boston. Two years in the National Guard. 






208 



One of the men I was going to be able to depend on to 
bolster my green replacements, I was pretty sure of that. 

Well, we didn't hold a court-martial or anything but I 
threatened to throw the book at Shapiro, talked at him 
pretty hard, told him we were going to make a soldier out 
of him whether he liked the idea or not. As a matter of 
fact I never saw such a sad excuse for a soldier in my 
life. He was a small, bow-legged little guy who looked as 
if he didn't have strength enough to pick up an Mi, much 
less fire it. But it wasn't the size that was so much against 
him. I've seen some little men from the Point who were 
the fightingest sons of bitches you ever saw — take our 
own little Terry Allen for instance. But this fellow 
Shapiro just didn't seem to have any soldier in him. His 
uniform was a mess. I had to make him tighten his tie 
and button the top button of his jacket. His shoes weren't 
shined. And when I called this to his attention, he said, 
"I know, Captain, the service on this ship is just terrible. 
I put my shoes out to be shined last night and they came 
back this morning looking just the way I left them." 

Well, I handed Shapiro some sort of punishment, I 
forget just what it was now, but if I thought that was 
the last time I was going to have him in my hair, I was 
sadly mistaken. After we went to the staging area out- 
side of London — I suppose there's no point in maintaining 
security on it any longer, but I just got in the habit of 
forgetting the name — I must've had more trouble with 
Shapiro than with all my other men put together. Sergeant 
McCardle was always turning him in. I knew that Mc- 
Cardle had this prejudice of course, the one I referred to 
before, so I always checked personally to make sure that 
Shapiro was really guilty of McCardle's charges. It was 
never anything big, you understand, just a string of irri- 
tating little things, taking his time to fall in, not keeping 
his weapons clean, going into places in town that were off 
limits and half a dozen other things I can't remember 



ENOUGH 209 

at the moment. We made him stand extra guard duty, 
cut down his passes to town, even had him in the guard- 
house for a few days, but nothing seemed to change 
Shapiro. I'm afraid McCardle, for all his prejudice, had 
pegged him right. A smart-aleck Jew-boy from Brooklyn. 

One Monday Shapiro failed to appear for morning 
muster. When he finally showed up, half a day AWOL on 
his week-end pass to London, I decided to get tough. I 
had him restricted to camp grounds for the duration of 
our training in England. We were working hard in those 
days and the boys counted pretty heavily on that thirty- 
six to London, but I was sick and tired of fooling with 
Shapiro. 

One Sunday I came back from London early in the 
afternoon to write up some reports. There was Shapiro 
sitting on a bench in front of the CP. It was drizzling a 
little, you know, English weather, and Shapiro was just 
sitting there with his hands in his pockets and his neck 
pulled in, as sad-looking a joker as you ever want to see. 
When he saw me he stood up and saluted, so it looked 
like this restriction deal wasn't doing Kim any harm. "How 
are you getting along, Shapiro?" I said. "Lousy, sir," 
Shapiro says. "I don't know what to do with myself." 

Well that was when I got the idea. As things turned 
out, it was one of the best ideas I had all the time I 
was in command of that company. "Why don't you go out 
on the range and do a little target practice? It won't do 
you any harm." 

You see, Shapiro's marksmanship was one of the com- 
pany's favorite jokes. He was the most hopeless shot I had 
ever seen, and believe me, in these days of civilian 
soldiers, I've seen some sad ones. So I told Shapiro that I 
would see to it that he got all the ammo he wanted 
if he spent his restricted week-ends out on the range. 

Well, Shapiro had nothing better to do, so he went 
to work. After a while he got to like it. I saw it myself 



210 



because a month or so later when I was working on some 
more reports — that's the only thing I don't like about the 
army, those damn reports — I went out on the range to do 
a little shooting with my .45 and there was Shapiro bang- 
ing away. He had improved about 500 per cent. Every 
Sunday for the next six weeks while the rest of the com- 
pany were sitting on their tails in their favorite pubs, 
Shapiro was out there on that range getting better and 
better. By the end of May, Lieutenant Ainsworth told me 
Shapiro was high man in his platoon. And he was still 
practicing every spare minute he had. Damn, when I 
gave him that ammo, I really started something. 

About that time I could feel D-Day creeping up on us. 
I didn't know the date or the hour yet, but I had been in 
the army too long not to feel something in the wind. So 
I called Shapiro in to see me and I said, "Shapiro, I've 
decided to lift the restriction on you. This Saturday at 
1800, you will receive a thirty-six-hour pass with the 
other men of your company. But if you are one minute 
absent over leave, Monday morning, by God, I'm going to 
throw the book at you with everything I've got behind it." 

Well, Shapiro went down to London and he must've 
had quite a week-end. Ainsworth ran across him in one 
club that Saturday night, playing the bass fiddle with a 
limey jazz band. And Sunday night he must have cele- 
brated right on through till Monday morning. But Mon- 
day morning there was Shapiro right on the dot. I re- 
marked to his squad leader, Sergeant McCardle, on the 
improvement in Shapiro's behavior, as well as his amazing 
development as a marksman. But Mac still stuck to his 
guns. "Sir, if you'll pardon me for saying it," he said, "I 
still don't think you can make a soldier out of a Jew-boy." 

I didn't think much about Shapiro those next few days. 
I had my own worries getting things ready for the move to 
the point of embarkation. We still hadn't been given the 
date, but it didn't take a West Point grind to know we had 



ENOUGH 211 

one foot on the boat. Then we went down to the coast, 
waited, got our LCI, and waited again until the fleet 
finally started forming up. But that is not what I wanted 
to tell you about. Let me tell you about Shapiro, and 
about McCardle, because in a way this story is about both 
of them. 

Our outfit went in at Omaha Beach. If any of you 
fellows were there you know what that means. If you 
weren't there, you probably heard about it. Omaha was — 
well, it was the toughest thing the old Red One had hit yet, 
and if you remember the plums they picked for us in 
Africa and Sicily, you know what that means. The Jerries 
were all ready for us at Omaha, and they were looking 
down our throats and for a long long time that beach was 
so hot that I never will know how we managed to keep 
from getting pushed right back into the Channel. All we 
could do was dig in and hang on. The air was rattling 
with machine-gun fire and the Jerry artillery had us 
nicely spotted. It looked like we were going to have to 
sweat it out in those foxholes the rest of the'war. All of a 
sudden I noticed somebody jump up about thirty-five 
yards in front of me. It was Shapiro. He was doing the 
damnedest thing I've ever seen on a battlefield. There 
didn't happen to be any latrines on Omaha at the time, so 
Shapiro was standing up there making a beautiful target 
of himself, calmly taking down his pants and attending to 
nature with bullets and shells cracking all around him. I 
guess you'd have to see it to believe it. I think it did 
something to everybody who saw it. Hell, if that kid can 
squat up there and take his own sweet time about it, 
they seemed to say, I guess we can take a chance. 

When he was finished, he took off his helmet a moment, 
produced a ration packet of sanitary paper he had cached 
in the liner, then adjusted his uniform again, grabbed his 
Mi and ran forward. Everybody who saw Shapiro that 
day agreed with me that his work was magnificent. 



212 



Battle conditions didn't seem to have any effect on his 
shooting eye, except maybe to sharpen it a little. I was 
proud of every man in my company, but I don't think I 
was prouder of anybody than I was of Shapiro. When we 
finally weathered that first storm and fought our way up 
off the beach, I made Shapiro our company sniper. Every- 
body agreed he was the best man for the job. Everybody 
except maybe McCardle. McCardle had to agree that 
Shapiro had become a very talented soldier, but he wasn't 
sure how he'd stand up under the constant pressure. You 
see, McCardle had a prejudice, a set of preconceived 
notions as to how a fellow like Shapiro would operate, 
and once you get those notions in your head, it takes a 
lot of powder to blast them out. 

Anyway, Shapiro fought like a madman all the way 
across France. I could tell you a hundred things he did, 
but it would take too long. Well, maybe this will give 
you some idea. One time late last summer we were dug 
in for the night in a field near the Meuse in Belgium. 
About three a.m. Shapiro woke up and looked over the 
edge of his foxhole. Parked smack in front of him, with 
the muzzle of its .88 extending right over Shapiro's fox- 
hole, was an enemy tank, a Tiger. The funniest thing 
about it is that McCardle saw the whole thing, from his 
foxhole fifty or sixty feet away. Shapiro kept his head 
down and waited. He even tried not to breathe too loud, 
he told us later. It must have been a long wait for 
Shapiro, but finally the night began to lift. A few minutes 
later the first Jerry opened the hatch and climbed out. He 
was quickly followed by the rest of the crew. They were 
just climbing out for a morning stretch. They weren't 
more than thirty feet from Shapiro. In slow motion, the 
barrel of Shapiro's rifle inched over the edge of his fox- 
hole. Even from where McCardle was, he could see that 
Shapiro's hand was trembling. But when he squeezed the 
trigger, a German fell. The others wheeled in surprise. 



ENOUGH 213 

Shapiro had stopped trembling now, McCardle said. 
Before the tank crew knew what hit them, Shapiro had 
turned them all into "good Germans." 

For that morning's work, Shapiro got the silver star 
and a boost to buck sergeant. "What do you think of your 
Jew-boy now?" I asked McCardle. "I don't know, sir," 
said McCardle. "I could be wrong I guess, could be." 
McCardle was a very stubborn Irishman. 

We crossed the German border and moved up to Aachen. 
How those Jerries hung onto Aachen! The weather was 
bad and we had to sleep out in the rain and the mud night 
after night, waiting for the Jerries to break. But they 
didn't break. We figured we'd be in Aachen in a week, 
but a month went by and we hadn't moved. The outfit 
was taking a terrible shellacking. Night and day. Never 
any rest. The casualties were bad, very bad, every day. It 
was beginning to look as if none of us would ever get into 
Aachen alive. Except for the patrols that sneaked in at 
night, of course. Shapiro was in on a lot of them and al- 
ways did a good job. On one of his missions he was 
nicked in the leg, but went on to carry out his assignment. 
Another time he brought in a man who stepped on a 
mine on the way back. I don't know how he managed it, 
the size of him, he just had it in him to be a very good 
soldier. 

One evening I called McCardle and told him I wanted 
him to lead a patrol in force, not just reconnaissance, 
but to try and knock out some Jerry machine-gun positions 
that were guarding the approaches to the city. McCardle 
was a second lieutenant now, filling the shoes of an offi- 
cer we lost three or four weeks before. "You can pick 
your own men," I told him. "Except for Shapiro. I want, 
you to take Shapiro. He's the best man we've got." 

Twenty minutes later, McCardle returned. "I can't 
take Shapiro, sir," he said. He had a handkerchief tied 
around his fingers and blood was beginning to spread 



214 



through. "Why not Shapiro?" I said. Everybody's nerves 
were pulled pretty tight and I was a little sore. I thought 
maybe McCardle had fixed it so he wouldn't have to 
take Shapiro. 

Then I found out what happened. 

McCardle had called Shapiro in to the company CP, a 
half-destroyed farmhouse, and given him the order. As 
soon as Shapiro heard what he had to do, he ran out of 
the house. McCardle followed him. Shapiro ran around 
the farmhouse into the barn, where some of the boys 
were bunking, scrambled up into the hayloft and pulled a 
blanket over his head. McCardle could see his shoulders 
shaking underneath it, could hear him sobbing. McCardle 
went into the loft after him and put his hand on Shapiro's 
shoulder. Shapiro growled, like a wild animal, McCardle 
said, just like a wild animal, and shook his hand off. 
Then McCardle reached under the blanket for him. 
Shapiro made a horrible sound and bit McCardle's fin- 
gers. That's what the blood on the handkerchief was from. 

I went out to the barn to see if I could do anything 
with Shapiro, but he wouldn't let me near him. Shapiro 
had had enough. He fought almost as hard against the 
medics as he had against the Jerries, but they finally got 
him down from the hayloft. That's a hell of a way for a 
good man to have to leave his outfit, but that's the way it 
is sometimes. Shapiro was a good man, but he had had 
enough. 

McCardle and I walked back to the house and I 
briefed him on his mission. We didn't say anything more 
about what had happened until after he reported back 
early next morning. "Too bad about Shapiro," I said. 
"Yeah," he agreed. "No matter how good those Jew- 
boys are, guess they're too high-strung for this business." 

The battle for Aachen dragged on. All of us saw our 
buddies getting killed, the best officers gone, more men 
getting it every day. That's when my platoon leaders 



ENOUGH 215 

came and told me they were afraid their men had had 
about enough. I knew from division G2 if we held out 
another week, two weeks, we were all right, because 
Aachen was too hot for the Jerries to hold forever. In 
fact, there were signs that some of the supermen were 
beginning to pull out. I decided to send another patrol 
down into town to find out just what was going on. I 
asked Lieutenant Ainsworth to send McCardle to me. In 
a few minutes Ainsworth came back with a funny look on 
his face. "I think you better come and talk to McCardle 
yourself, sir," he said. 

I followed him down the steep wooden steps to the 
cellar. There was McCardle sprawled full length on the 
ground, stuffing his fingers into his mouth and sobbing 
like a baby. I put my hand on his arm and tried to 
reach him, but it wasn't any good. He couldn't stop 
crying. "I want Shapiro," he was sobbing. "I want 
Shapiro, that poor little son-of-a-bitch Shapiro." 

McCardle had had enough. It was a terrible thing to 
see this big tough Irishman gnawing on his fingers and 
crying as if his heart would break, but there was nothing 
you could do about it. He had had enough. We had to 
send him back next morning with some other Section 8's. 

We finally got into Aachen, or what was left of 
Aachen, a couple of days later. But I was sorry to have to 
get there without McCardle and Shapiro. They were two 
of the best men I ever soldiered with. 



216 



CROWD PLEASER 



The guy on my left was a regular. Every Friday night since 
I could remember, he had sat in that same seat on the 
aisle. He was broad and beefy-faced, with a high-blood- 
pressure complexion and a big mouth. He was powerfully 
built, despite the pot belly and spreading rump of middle 
age. The first night he sat next to me he bought me a beer, 
told me to keep him in mind next time I bought a new car, 
and handed me his card. Name was Dempsey. "Edward J. 
(Champ) Dempsey," it said on the card. "No, no relation 
to Jack," he chuckled. "We went to different schools to- 
gether." 

His voice, deep in his throat, always sounded as if he 
had a cold. The laughter with which he punctuated every- 
thing he said was open-mouthed and prolonged, loud and 
unmusical. He had a ridiculous pride in his ability to keep 
up a running patter of public speech throughout any fight. 



CROWD PLEASER 217 

Years before he had appointed himself a sort of one-man 
claque to urge the fighters on to bloodier efforts, and 
whenever the boys in the ring decided to take it a little 
easy, coasting a round or feeling each other out, his 
throaty witticisms would pierce the dark and smoky 
silence: "Turn out the lights, they want to be alone!" or 
"Hey, girls, can I have the next dance?" Or if one of the 
boxers happened to be Jewish, he was quick to show what 
a linguist he was by yelling, "Hit him in the kishges," 
or display his knowledge of geography by shouting, "Send 
him back to Jerusalem!" 

The fellow who always sat on my right was George 
Rogers, a big-money lawyer, but his seat was empty to- 
night. "Well, looks like our old friend George is playing 
hooky tonight, ha ha ha," Dempsey said. Rogers was a 
white-haired old-timer who hardly ever said a word to 
either of us. Dempsey had been trying to sell him a car 
since early last summer. 

Just before the first preliminary boys climbed through 
the ropes, the usher led to Rogers' seat a fellow I had never 
seen before. He was short, thin, nervous, somewhere in his 
middle thirties, but already beginning to stoop from the 
waist like a much older man. His skin was pallid, he wore 
glasses, and he needed only the green eyeshade to become 
my stereotype of a bookkeeper. 

"Excuse me, sir," he said as he squeezed by. "I am sorry 
to disturb you." 

That wasn't what they usually said when they shoved 
past you at the Arena. Dempsey looked at him the way a 
gang leader eyes a new kid who has just moved into the 
block. 

"Where's my old pal George tonight?" he wanted to 
know. 

The man was shy and his answer came in a thin voice. 
"Mr. Rogers is out of town on business, sir. He was 
good enough to give me his ticket." 



218 



"You in Rogers' office?" Dempsey appraised him with 
salesman's eyes. 

The newcomer said yes, not too encouragingly, but it 
was enough for Dempsey to lean across me and display his 
professional smile. "Dempsey's the name. What's yours, 
fella?" 

"Glover," the fellow said, but he did not seem very 
happy about it. 

"Glover!" Dempsey shuffled quickly through thou- 
sands of calling cards in his mind. "Used to know a 
Charley Glover back in K.C. fifteen years ago. Any rela- 
tion to old Charley?" 

"I've never had any relatives in the Middle West," 
Glover answered. 

"Well, I won't hold it against you, ha ha ha," Dempsey 
said. "Here, have a cigar." 

Dempsey leaned across me to hand it to him. He hadn't 
offered me a cigar since the night I told him to stop trying 
to sell me a car, and let him know why. 

Glover said he didn't smoke cigars, and Dempsey lit his, 
igniting the match with a flick of his thumbnail. "So you 
work for Rogers, huh," he went on. "Well, George is a 
very, very good friend of mine. What are you, a junior 
partner?" 

"Oh, no," Glover said, and something that was almost a 
smile lit his face for a moment, as if at the impossibility of 
such a suggestion. "I am a stenographer." 

Dempsey's smile, or rather, his clever imitation of a 
smile, wiped from his face mechanically, like a lantern 
slide. When he abandoned it suddenly like that, his face 
looked even more bloated and aggressive than usual. 
"A stenographer! Ha ha ha. Are you kidding?" 
"Mr. Rogers has employed nothing but male stenogra- 
phers for over thirty years." 

Dempsey looked disgusted and turned away. 

The boys in the curtain raiser were entering the ring. 



CROWD PLEASER 219 

There was scattered applause for Sailor Gibbons, a rugged, 
battle-scarred veteran who had never graduated from the 
preliminary ranks. He bounded through the ropes with 
showy vigor and winked at a friend in the working press 
as he shuffled his feet in the rosin box. He was an old- 
timer getting ready to go to work, easy to hit but hard to 
stop, what the tub thumpers like to call a "crowd pleaser." 

The boy who followed him through the ropes had the 
kind of figure and color that made everyone want to laugh. 
His 140 pounds were stretched over a six-foot frame and 
his skin was purple-black. His face was long and thin and 
solemn, and the ring-wise could detect nervousness in 
the way his muscles twitched in his legs as his handlers 
drew on his gloves. Over his shoulders was a bright orange 
bathrobe that identified him as a Golden Gloves Cham- 
pion. 

The moment Dempsey saw him, he began. "Ho ho! 
Look what we got with us tonight. A boogie! Boy, how I 
like to see them boogies get it!" 

The announcer was introducing them. ". . . and at one 
hundred thirty-nine and a half, just up from the amateur 
ranks, the Pride of Central Avenue, Young Joe Gans." 

Dempsey cupped his hands around his mouth. "Come 
on, Sailor, send him back to Central Avenue — in sections." 
Then, like a professional comedian, he looked around for 
his laugh. He got it. 

The stadium lights dimmed out and the ring lights 
came on, morning the ring and the fighters together in one 
intense glow. You could feel the nervous excitement in the 
hushed crowd, five thousand men and women crouching 
there in the darkness waiting for the blood. 

In the white glare the fighters, the pale stocky one and 
the dark slender one, moved toward each other with ani- 
mal caution and touched gloves in that empty gesture of 
sportsmanship. Gibbons was an in-fighter, strong-legged, 
thick-shouldered, crouching, weaving, willing to take one 



220 



on the jaw to get inside and club and push and rough his 
man against the ropes. Young Gans was the duelist, jabbing 
with a long spidery left and dancing away. 

"Come on, Sailor!" Dempsey bellowed. "Let's get 
home early. Down below. They can't take 'em there." 

As if responding to Dempsey's instructions, Gibbons 
brought a wild right up from the floor in the general di- 
rection of the colored boy's stomach. But Gans swayed away 
from it with the graceful precision of a bullfighter. 

Next to me a small voice spoke out in a conversational 
tone. "Nice work, Gans," Glover said. 

Dempsey turned and frowned. "You pulling for the 
boogie? What you pulling for the boogie for? Betting his 
corner?" 

"I like his style of fighting," Glover said. 

"Fighting!" Dempsey said. "You call that fighting? The 
boogie is a hit-and-run driver, that's what he is. Ha ha ha." 
He liked it so well he cupped his hands to his mouth again 
and gave it to his public. "Hey, ref, how about giving 
that shine a ticket for hit-and-run driving?" 

Some of Dempsey's fans in front of him turned around 
to show him they were laughing. Gibbons lunged at Gans 
again, and the Negro flicked his left in the white man's 
face half a dozen times and skittered sideways out of dan- 
ger. 

"Attaboy, Gans," Glover said. "Give him a boxing 
lesson." 

He didn't say it loud enough for the fighters to hear; it 
was really intended as a little encouragement for himself, 
but Dempsey heard it and glared at Glover again. He 
opened his mouth to put Glover in his place but turned 
back and yelled at the fighters instead. 

"Don't hit him in the head, Sailor. You'll break your 
hands. In the breadbasket. That's where they don't like 
it." 

The Negro feinted with his left, pulling the slow- 



CROWD PLEASER 221 

thinking Gibbons out of position, and scored with a short, 
fast right to the heart. Gibbons sagged, but his face spread 
in a big grin, and his legs pistoned rapidly up and down to 
show how light on his feet he was. He was hurt. 

"He doesn't like them there, either," Glover said. "No- 
body likes them there." 

Dempsey was talking half to Glover and half to the 
fighters in the ring now. "But he took it. That's the way 
to take 'em, Sailor. Give the boogie some of that and watch 
him fold." 

"I'm watching," Glover said. "All I can see is Gans's left 
in Gibbons' face." Suddenly he raised his voice, edged 
with excitement. "That's the way, Gans, jab him. Jab his 
head off." He was growing bolder as Gans piled up 
points. 

Dempsey leaned forward, his fists tightly clenched, his 
shoulders moving in unison with Gibbons' as the Sailor 
tried to reach Gans with vicious haymakers; the colored 
fighter skillfully ducked and blocked and rolled until 
Gibbons was charging in with the crazed fury of a punished 
bull. 

"Come on, eightball, why don't you fight?" Dempsey 
jeered. 

"Good boy, Gans," Glover answered. "He hasn't hit 
you once this round." 

When the bell rang, Gans dropped his hands automat- 
ically but Gibbons' right was cocked and while the sound 
of the bell was still galong-galonging through the arena, 
he let it go. You could see Gans stiffen and then sag as his 
body absorbed the pain for which it hadn't been prepared. 

The blow made Dempsey laugh with excitement and 
relief. He always gave a short, nervous laugh when the 
fighter he was rooting against got hurt, but tonight he 
had someone special to laugh at. "That's the baby! What'd 
I tell you? He don't like 'em downstairs. Those boogies 
never do. One more like that and he'll quit cold." 



222 



"One more like that and Gibbons ought to be disquali- 
fied," Glover said. 

"Aah, you nigger-lovers give me a pain," Dempsey said. 
"Always griping about those bastards getting gypped. That 
punch started before the bell." 

"Well, he'll have to wait three minutes before he can 
hit him again," Glover said. "The only time Gibbons can 
hurt him is when Gans isn't looking." 

"Oh, is that so? What the hell do you know about it? 
I been sitting in this same seat for eight years. I'll bet you 
ain't even seen a fight before." 

"Do you have to see a skunk to recognize its smell?" 

Dempsey tensed himself to rise. "Listen, you little 
shrimp, if you're trying to call me a skunk . . ." 

Glover looked frightened. Dempsey had at least fifty 
pounds on him, and Glover didn't look as if he had had 
too much experience with his dukes. But the bell saved 
him, in reverse timing. The ten-second warning buzzer for 
round two made fans around us say, "Sit down. Down in 
front! We wanna watch the fight in the ring." 

The two fighters leaned toward each other from their 
stools, feet set for the spring at the bell. Dempsey and 
Glover anticipated the bell too, sliding forward to the 
edges of their seats, their legs tensing under them as if 
they also expected to leap up as the round started. Demp- 
sey made his hands into fists again and they trembled 
with eagerness to begin punching. In the shadows just 
beyond range of the ring lights, Glover's face was white 
and drawn. His right hand was doubled against his mouth 
in a nervous gesture of apprehension. 

"All right, Sailor, this is the round," Dempsey shouted. 
"In the belly. In the belly." 

"Come on, Gans," Glover countered, "box his ears off 
again." 

At the bell, Gibbons ran across the ring and tried to 
nail the Neonro in his corner before he was set. Glover 



CROWD PLEASER 223 

opened his mouth in fright, like a mother seeing her child 
run down in the street. "Look — look out!" 

Without changing the solemn expression with which he 
had come into the ring, Young Gans stepped aside in what 
looked almost like a gesture of politeness — "please, after 
you" — and Gibbons plunged foolishly through the ropes. 

"Where is he, Gibbons?" Glover said. "You can't even 
find him, much less hit him." 

"Why don't you stand up and fight, you yellow 
bastard?" There was desperation in Dempsey's tone for 
the first time. 

Glover's voice became shrill with combativeness. "That's 
the way to fight him, Gans. Keep that left in his face." 

"Keep rushing him, Sailor. He can't hurt you. He 
couldn't break an egg." 

"What are you blinking for, Sailor? What are you 
stopping for? I thought he couldn't hurt you." 

"He's not hurt. A little nosebleed like that don't bother 
him. Keep after him, Sailor. Make the boogie fight!" 

Young Gans was making a monkey out of Gibbons, but 
I was watching the fight between Glover and Dempsey 
now. They were talking at each other but looking straight 
ahead, straining forward for every movement and moment 
of the bout in the ring. I didn't have to watch the fight. 
There in the thin, hysterical voice of Glover and the bull- 
frog fury of Dempsey, it was more vivid than even Jimmy 
Powers or Bill Stern would have made it. 

"How do you like that one? And that one? And that 
one?" Glover flicked the jabs in Dempsey's face. 

Dempsey shook them off and laughed. "Powderpuff 
punches. All powderpuff punches. Hey! That's it! That's 
it! Break the boogie in two!" 

Glover clinched a moment to ride out the pain and 
danced away again. "Who says you can't take 'em in the 
belly?" 

Their voices rose as the tiring fighters fought harder, 



224 



became more vulnerable now, more dangerous. But sud- 
denly their shouting was lost in the giant roar that filled 
the place. The crowd was on its feet, screaming through 
its thousand wild mouths, screaming at the sight of a man, 
a black man, writhing convulsively on the canvas, bring- 
ing up his legs and clutching himself, twisting his long, 
serious face into a grotesque mask of agony. 

Glover looked on in horror and futile anger. "Foul. 
Foul," he said. "He hit him low. I saw it. He hit him 
low." 

There were others around him who saw it that way too 
and they took up the cry, "Foul, foul, foul . . ." 

Dempsey was standing right next to me but his laughter 
sounded far away, as if the wave of voices breaking over 
us were carrying it off. "Ha ha ha ha ha," he said, and his 
face was distorted with terrible joy. "Foul, hell. Look at 
him dogging it. He wants to quit." 

The referee had disregarded the cries of foul and taken 
up the count. Gans was fighting his sickness down, reaching 
out for a strand of the rope and clinging to it to keep the 
floor steady so he could rise from it again. 

"Look at him dog it," Dempsey hollered. "He's yella. 
If that's a foul, he's got his crotch where his heart is." 

A few people laughed and Dempsey winked at them. 
His sense of humor was coming back. He was feeling on 
top again. He looked over at Glover. Glover was badly 
shaken. Some of the strain of the Negro's torturous ascent 
had come into his face. "Well, wise guy, how do you like 
your nigger now?" Dempsey poured it on. 

"All right, Gans," Glover pleaded, "coast through this 
round. You've won it on a foul anyway." 

"Come on, Sailor, kill him, kill him, kill him!" Dempsey 
cheered. 

The Negro was on his feet but he wasn't dancing around 
any more. It plainly hurt him to move now. His skin was 



CROWD PLEASER 225 

a curious chalky color and his eyes turned toward his 
corner in distress. 

Dempsey was laughing. "Look at him! he's so scared 
he's white! You're making a white man outa him, Sailor." 

Gibbons rushed the crippled fighter into a corner and 
opened his cheek with a hard left hand. 

"Ha ha ha. One more, Sailor. One more and he'll quit." 

Glover was too full of injury to speak. Dempsey grinned 
over at him. "Wha'samatter, pal, lost your voice? Why, you 
was just full of chatter a minute ago." 

Glover did not seem to hear. He sat back in his seat and 
looked straight ahead. His fighter leaned wearily against 
the ropes, too weak to hold his man off any longer. 

"Let him drop," Dempsey was shouting. "Stand back 
and let the boogie drop!" 

Then there was a loud laugh, even louder than usual, 
and the Negro crumpled in the corner and lay still. 

Dempsey stood up and pulled the seat of his pants away 
where it had creased into his buttocks. "What did I tell 
you? Didn't I tell you he'd dog it if he got hurt? I never 
saw a boogie yet that could take it in the belly." 

The ring was being cleared for the next bout, the band 
was rendering Stars and Stripes Forever and the next pair 
of fighters was coming down the aisle. But Glover didn't 
seem to be hearing or seeing. He just hung his head and 
held his hands together in his lap. How long would it take 
him, I wondered, to recover from this pain in Young Gans's 
groin? 



226 



THE LEGEND THAT WALKS 
LIKE A MAN 



There's quite a gang of us hangs out at Stage One. The 
moment the director says, "All right, wrap it up," and 
the assistant director (that's me) calls out, "Tomorrow 
morning we move over to the night-club set on Stage 
Seven, nine a.m. on the button," most of the company 
hightails it across the street to our favorite watering place. 
Stage One isn't a dive, but it isn't Giro's, either. We 
hardly ever get a big star in the joint and that's okay 
with us because we've seen enough of those so-and-so's 
from nine till six. Now don't get me wrong I've got noth- 
ing against the glamour department and a couple of those 
gals, Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard for two, were real 
good joes in anybody's league. It's just that in Stage One 
we kind of have our own crowd, assistant directors, sec- 
ond cameramen, juicers, grips, mixers, cutters, you know, 
the guys who actually do the work. I suppose if Frank 



LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 227 

Capra or John Ford came in, we wouldn't toss 'em out 
exactly. It's just that we feel more relaxed by ourselves, 
you know how it is, we get a couple of drinks, unwind a 
little and pretty soon an assistant is telling us something 
extra-stupid his director did that day, and then maybe I 
chime in with my story of how much trouble a certain 
star gave me when I knocked on her dressing-room door 
to tell her we were ready to shoot and then the second 
cameraman gives us his peeve about what a prima donna 
the head cameraman is getting to be. 

Making pictures is nothing but hard work, all of it un- 
der pressure, and since we have to keep our yaps shut all 
day there's nothing like bending an elbow at Stage One 
and blowing off a little steam. 

The nice thing about the fellow who runs the joint, 
Larry White, Cecil B. himself could come in that place 
and Larry wouldn't pay him any more mind than he 
would one of us hundred-a-week guys. Not as much, prob- 
ably, because Larry is pretty partial to us regular 
customers, runs the place more like a club than a com- 
mercial saloon and most of us who live at Stage One 
from the time our company breaks for the day until clos- 
ing time are privileged charter members. Larry used to 
be quite a boy in the movie game himself, back in the 
silent days. He was a popular leading man for First Na- 
tional when Jack Mulhall and Dorothy Mackail were 
going great guns. If you don't believe it, just look at those 
stills behind the bar, that's Larry with Sue Carol, and 
Phyllis Haver and Sally O'Neill. He had a nice head of 
hair in those days. Larry got a tough break when sound 
came in. He had the same kind of voice as poor Jack Gil- 
bert, a funny little squeak of a voice and overnight he 
was out of the money. 

But Larry's done a lot better than most the old-timers. 
The way we flock around that bar, he'll never have to 
check in at the Motion Picture Relief Home like a lot of 



228 



old kids I know who were pulling down five thousand a 
week without taxes twenty years ago. 

I was saying a little while ago that we didn't have any 
celebrities in Stage One, but that isn't 100 per cent God's 
truth. We have Matty Moran, all right. Some of us aren't 
sure if Matty has any other address besides Stage One. 
He's there when we come in for a quick one at lunch and 
going strong when we come back at six and going even 
stronger when Larry finally starts locking up around one. 
Matty is a fixture, all right. I don't think any of us would 
feel the same way about the place if he should ever leave 
it. 

Now maybe I'd better stop right here and take a read- 
ing on how many of you ever heard of Matty Moran. Be- 
cause it's a funny thing about fame in this screwy business. 
One day you're recognized if you show up on a side street 
in Calcutta and the next day or the day after you can 
walk right down the middle of Hollywood Boulevard 
and nobody knows you from the street cleaner. 

It sure was that way with Matty Moran. It wasn't so long 
ago that Matty was one of the biggest directors in the 
business. You said Griffith and you said De Mille and then 
you usually said Moran. Yes, sir, I can remember — I 
should, I was his assistant on a dozen pictures — when Matty 
was good for ten thousand clameroos a week. I'll bet 
Matty would like to have a dollar now for every grand he 
threw away. 

Matty was the original star-maker in those days. I 
swear, kids would be willing to work in his pictures for 
nothing because he seemed to have a kind of magic when 
he touched them. This Sue Carol and Phyllis Haver I 
just mentioned, those kids weren't nothing till he sprin- 
kled a little of that special Moran Stardust on them. And 
a lot of them who are still going can thank Matty for the 
start. Gary Cooper for one, Claire Trevor for another. 

Matty gave Larry White his chance, too. And more 



LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 229 

than that, I guess he dug down and helped Larry over 
those bumps back in twenty-seven or eight. Then when 
things were on the other foot, Larry seemed to have an 
unlimited cuff where Matty was concerned. So you'd never 
guess that Matty was, well to put it harshly, a dead-broke 
bum from the way he's treated around Stage One. The 
city's finest may be looking for him for that last rubbery 
check, but he's strictly Special People once he steps in- 
side Larry's place. And to look at the dapper way he keeps 
himself, you'd never know he was half a step ahead of the 
law and just as apt as not to spend that night as a guest of 
the county for drawing on a bank that has no relation to 
any actual bank either living or dead, as we say in those 
forewords. 

One of the things that always got us about Matty is that 
he's managed to look just as prosperous these last few 
years as when he was sporting not one but two white 
Rolls Royces, one for himself and his lady love (of the 
moment), the other for his own private five-piece orches- 
tra. The only reason it wasn't a ten-piece orchestra or a 
symphony-sized orchestra is that they wouldn't fit into 
that Rolls. Well as I was saying, Matty still managed to 
show up in a flashy double-breasted (maybe not this year's 
but still mighty sharp) and he's always sporting a jaunty 
bow tie and if he didn't have that fresh red carnation in 
his buttonhole we'd think it was some impostor. Another 
thing Matty always brings into Stage One with him is 
that mischievous red face and that cocky grin, just as if 
he had come straight from the Paramount lot where he 
was directing the most expensive production since Ben 
Hur. Is that amazing, a guy who hasn't had a real job in 
maybe fifteen years and he doesn't change a peg in looks 
or behavior? All the hard knocks and he's had them plenty 
can't stop him from acting like he owned the town. No 
kidding, Orson Welles in his cockiest moments (and 
that is something to see too) can't compete with Matty 



230 



Moran down and out and every studio door slammed in 
his face. 

Yes, Matty still swaggers in and if he happens to spot 
me he says, ''Evening, Red," and I say, "Evening, Mr. 
Moran," just as if I was still working assistant with him. 
And then maybe I say, "Will you join me in a little hair of 
the dog?" and the truth is probably that his tongue is 
hanging out for it, but he'll say, "Well maybe just one so 
you won't spread the word through the Junior Directors' 
Guild that Moran's gone high-hat." And then after we've 
had three or four, all "forced on him," like that first one, 
Matty will say, "Now I insist, young man" (I'm chasing 
him into the fifties but he's called me that from the time 
we were making Beery-Hatton comedies) "the next one is 
on me." And- then you should see him order, like the King 
of England or L. B. Mayer, instead of a joker who couldn't 
buy his way into a dime movie on Main Street. "I say, 
Larry old boy, a spot of whiskey for my friend Farrell. 
And I might have just a touch myself to keep him com- 
pany." Then he'd give me that wink, the wink that had 
charmed Pola Negri and Lya de Putti and Norma Tal- 
madge out of their temperamental tantrums. 

You've heard of this word "irrepressible"? That's the 
word for Matty Moran, all right. You probably wonder 
how a fella with Matty's reputation and talent and per- 
sonality and energy-plus ever hit bottom. Well, one rea- 
son might be that the town got sort of scared of Matty's 
crazy ways. For instance, one time to celebrate the 
wind-up of a Jack Gilbert-Renee Adoree picture he gave 
a party on the set that lasted — I swear to Zanuck — five 
days. He had one orchestra from the Coconut Grove and 
another from the Plantation Club and a Hawaiian orches- 
tra for in between. He'd been to a louou in the Islands 
the year before (had an ocean-going yacht in those days, 
natch) and he just decided to reproduce it in the studio. 
As I said, that party went on for five days and five nights 



LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 231 

and the boys and girls were so thirsty that Matty's boot- 
legger, Jerry Faye, had to send up a special boatload from 
Lower California. That party set Matty back somewheres 
in the neighborhood of ten thousand fish, ten thousand 
fish he should have salted away. 

But that probably wouldn't have given Matty squatter's 
rights behind the eightball if he hadn't been such a wild 
man when he was shooting. Like D.W. and C.B., he came 
up out of the old school where the director was the whole 
cheese. For instance, one time he was telling Barbara La 
Marr how to play a scene and she said something under 
her breath and Matty heard it and bounced her right the 
hell off the picture. Matty's producer came crying that the 
picture was already sold as a Barbara La Marr starring ve- 
hicle and shooting her scenes over would cost an addi- 
tional ninety thousand, but Matty couldn't hear him. 
That's the way he was. The greatest guy in the world off 
a set, more laughs than a barrelful of ass-holes, but on 
the set it had to be done strictly Matty's way and no fool- 
ing. He didn't care what it cost or who it hurt. For in- 
stance one time he was directing a million-dollar cast with 
Wally Beery, Vic McLaglen, Charley Farrell and Buddy 
Rogers in one of the first big war epics. The cast got fool- 
ing around the way they will sometimes, clowning and 
getting sloppier and sloppier. Finally Matty said, "Look, 
sweeties, mess me up like that once more and I'll hop a 
boat for China." 

Well, the next take they still hadn't settled down to 
business, so Matty just puts his megaphone down and 
walks off the set. The next morning he didn't show up 
at all. Or the next. I called his valet and he said Mr. 
Moran had packed a small bag and left without saying 
where he was going or when he'd be back. Two weeks 
later we get a cable from him and where do you think he 
is? Right the first time. Shanghai! And when he finally 
gets back, he's married to a gorgeous Russian-Chinese girl 



232 



who turns out to be Sari Sanine, and of course Matty de- 
velops her into the most exotic foreign star since Dietrich. 

But the all-time topper, until recently, I should add, was 
the time Matty was directing Sari. Sari was the hottest 
thing in pictures by this time and Matty was on the skids. 
In fact, it was general studio talk that the only reason 
Metro was keeping Matty on was because they were afraid 
of losing Sari. So what does Matty proceed to do? He gets 
into a knock-down-drag-out with Sari on the set as to how 
a certain love scene should be played. Sari wants it subtle. 
Matty wants it sex on the line. Sari says after all, she is a 
great dramatic actress. Matty says baloney, if she had to 
depend on her acting she wouldn't be worth five dollars a 
day. Well, they get going round and round in more and 
more of a hassel until finally Matty pulls the classic. He 
fires her off the picture! Bounces his own wife and Metro's 
biggest drawing card right off the set! I was right there 
when it happened or I wouldn't of believed it. Twenty 
minutes later Matty is taken off the picture. And this plus 
the trip to China plus a hundred-and-one other hotheaded 
stunts and Matty is just about washed up with the majors. 

He does a couple of low-budget jobs for Republic and 
Monogram and then he's down to those shoestring deals 
on Poverty Row, but Matty is no good unless he's doing 
things in a big way. If he has a waterfall scene he's used to 
renting Niagara. If he was shooting a scene supposed to 
take place in Heaven he'd tell me to hire God. So he was 
no good trying to scale himself down to those thirty-set- 
ups-a-day, $150,000 quickies. It wasn't long before Matty 
lined up with the has-beens. Though you'd never know 
how tough the going was from talking to Matty. You know 
the old gag about never being unemployed, you're just 
"between pictures." Well Matty worked that one up to a 
high art. "I've just dropped in on my way back from 
Fox," he'd say, when we found him in his usual place at 
the far corner of Larry's bar. "It looks like Darryl is going 



LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 233 

to have something really big for me in a couple of 
months." 

And then he'd offer to buy us a drink and come up with 
some funny story of the old days even I had never heard 
before and the way he'd talk shop and laugh with us 
you'd think it was his name that was up in lights instead 
of Jack Ford's or Johnny Huston's. 

But lately, some of us began to notice that in spite of 
the prosperous front and the jokes and the winks and 
those "important jobs" he was always about to get, Matty 
was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. The suit 
was pressed, all right, but it was getting a little thread- 
bare. He still had those fifteen-dollar monogrammed 
shirts, but the cuffs were getting a little stringy. And then 
one night he called me and asked if he could stay at my 
place. Said they had just painted his room and the fumes 
were bothering him, but I didn't have to be a genius to 
know he had been bounced from his one lousy room in 
one of those cheap boarding houses between Hollywood 
Boulevard and Franklin. And that morning when I was 
going off to work I slipped him a fifty and he started to 
say, "Don't be silly, Red — well, I'll pay you back tomor- 
row," the way he usually did. But this time he did some- 
thing I had never seen him do before. He stopped right 
in the middle and looked at that bill for what seemed like 
a full minute and then his eyes suddenly filled. Not know- 
ing him the way I do, you probably would not be so af- 
fected, but for me, seeing him through all these years 
chipper and jaunty and so much more fun to be with than 
most the guys I knew who worked regularly, well I can't 
put it into words, but it was something, let me tell you. 

I thought about it all morning on the set. And I guess 
when I've got something on my mind it shows on my 
stupid face because, when we broke for lunch, Vic Flan- 
ner, the director, and one of the best, came up and said, 
"What's the matter, Red?" So I told him about Matty. 



234 



Now Vic is an old-timer too. I guess he goes back as far as 
any of them, D.W. included, so right away he was in- 
terested. ''I didn't know Matty Moran was still around," 
he said. 

You see, that's why Hollywood is such a funny place. In 
some ways it's a small town, but it's built on a lot of dif- 
ferent levels. All the big producers are buddy-buddies, 
and ditto the big directors, the assistants, the top writers 
and the bottom writers, but top is top and bottom is bot- 
tom and the twain don't meet very often. So it was per- 
fectly possible for Matty to be right across the street all 
these years and Vic not know it because if he goes any- 
where it's probably to Chasen's or Romanoff's or one of 
those places where they throw ten-dollar bills away like 
paper napkins. 

Anyway, I give him an earful about Matty and he gets 
to thinking. His next picture is one of those super-duper 
epics called San Juan Hill. Now a picture like that is such 
a big deal that they use what they call a second-unit direc- 
tor to take some of the load off the regular director. The 
second-unit director usually shoots exterior backgrounds 
and tie-in shots, none of the important dialogue scenes, 
naturally, though sometimes he's allowed to handle rou- 
tine dialogue, like when the butler says, ''Just a minute, 
I'll see." You know, the odds and ends. 

"I don't know why Matty couldn't shoot second unit 
on San Juan," Vic says. "I'll talk to the front office about 
it." 

So that's the way, after fifteen years on the outside, 
Matty finally got back on a studio payroll again. $350 a 
week. He couldn't have kept himself in Alexander & 
Oviatt ties on that in the fat days, but all of us in Stage 
One had quite a ball the day the deal was definitely set. 
And you should have seen Matty. If he was full of beans 
under circumstances that would have driven most of us 



LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 235 

to Suicide Bridge, there was no holding him on the 
ground now. 

He made an entrance into Stage One that put C.B. in 
the piker class. "Larry," he ordered, using his hand like 
it was some kind of a scepter, "buy everybody in the house 
a drink and put it on my check." If Sari or one of his 
other famous wives had shown up just then I would of 
sworn that time was running backwards like those trick 
shots in a Pete Smith short and that this was the Matty 
Moran of twenty years ago. 

Knowing his old ways, I couldn't help wondering how 
this deal was going to work out, because Matty never 
could play second fiddle to anybody. But I got a ring- 
side seat when Vic Flanner switched me over as first assist- 
ant to the indefatigable Mr. M. 

Well to everybody's amazement including yours truly, 
Matty pitches in and does a whale of a job. The first 
day out on location near San Berdoo he knocks off eight 
setups, three more than I had figured, because everything 
takes longer outside of the studio. He always was a fast 
worker when he was in the mood (wrapped up a feature 
in eleven days once), and this time he was keeping the 
company on its toes like the old Moran and then some. 
And of course all of us boys from Stage One, the grips, 
the juicers, the camera crew and the sound men, were 
really behind him, and that never hurt a director yet. In 
five days' shooting he's two days ahead of schedule, and 
that schedule wasn't one of those padded jobs, because I 
made it out myself. I might of been tempted to feather it 
a little to make Matty look good, but sure as taxes I'd of 
had our hawk-eyed production manager on my neck. Any- 
way, the form Matty was showing, he didn't need any 
special favors from anybody. He was like an old race 
horse that's just been itching for someone to get him out 
on the track and give him his head. 



236 



And it wasn't only speed. The rushes looked swell. Way 
above the average background and pickup stuff. Those 
rushes had mood and the timing was sharp and Matty 
was getting a lot of nice little touches in that weren't 
called for in the script. You could tell the way our pro- 
ducer, Oscar Mittels, talked to Matty after the second 
day's rushes that the old master was scoring. Mittels' sec- 
retary — you know the old studio grapevine — even told me 
she had heard the big boss mention to the studio manager 
that Matty had certainly seemed to've learned his lesson, 
and that it might be an idea to sign him to a low-salary 
contract as a regular second-unit man. 

The second-unit schedule was seventeen days, and 
when Matty wrapped up his job in twelve he went to Vic 
and asked him if he could stay on the picture, taking over 
some of the minor dialogue scenes. Well, as usual, Vic 
was having his hands full with that bitch star of ours, 
Mona Moray, and Mittels' crying because he was two days 
behind schedule, so he told Matty to go ahead, and gave 
him his blessings. 

On the first day Matty drew some unimportant scenes 
with a couple of twenty-flve-dollar-a-day bit players and 
I must say everything went smoothly. They say a champ 
can never come back and usually that's as true for the 
movie racket as it is for the fight racket. But this time it 
sure looked like old Matty was crossing all the pessimists. 
"If you keep this up," I ribbed him, "us common people 
won't even let you in Stage One. You'll have to go over 
to Romanoff's with the big shots." 

"Success never has gone to my head," Matty declared. 
"It's the great men who are truly humble." 

"Amen," I said. 

The next day Matty had his first scene of any impor- 
tance. It was just a routine moment in the picture, but it 
called for the two leads, Grant Gibson and Mona Moray. 



LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 237 

It was only a simple tie-in shot. A telegram arrives, Mona 
takes it and says, "It's for you, dear." That's all, just those 
four words and a little look at the end, the kind nobody 
has to tell Mona how to do. I figured we'd have it in the 
can in half an hour, master shot, close-up and all. 

Well, Grant and Mona rehearse the scene once, and 
Matty doesn't like the reading. Where she'd said, "It's 
for you, dear," Matty thinks it ought to be "It's for you, 
dear." 

"I think that sounds too sarcastic," Mona says. "After 
all, I'm supposed to be sympathetic in this part." 

"I'll tell you what you're supposed to be about it," 
Matty says. "After all, I'm directing this picture." 

I see Mona look at Grant and they both look at me. I 
know what they're thinking — it's Vic Flanner who's di- 
recting this picture. Matty is just filling in with second 
unit. 

Well, they don't get anywhere with the rehearsal, so 
Matty says, "All right, turn 'em, we'll go for a take," 
"Twirl 'em," I call out, "Quietl" and my heart's in my 
throat. I can see that look on Matty's face. Live actors in 
front of him for the first time in all these years. Famous 
stars. Matty Moran is back in the big time. 

They go through their little scene and Mona still says, 
"It's for you, dear." 

"Cut," Matty said. And I see signs of that famous tem- 
perament flushing up his face. "You're ruining that line. 
Don't emphasize 'It's for you . . .' The lowest moron 
in the balcony knows it's for him. It's that 'dear' I want 
you to work on. Not sarcastic. Just a little hint of cattiness 
around the edges. You can be catty, can't you, Mona?" 

The script girl laughed. That was some question to ask 
the lot's champion feline. I could almost feel those beau- 
tifully painted claws reaching out to pin Matty for the 
kill. 



238 



"I'm an actress," Mona snapped. "I can be anything the 
script calls for. But we play these parts a little differently 
now from when you were doing them, Mr. Moran." 

Matty's temperature, or should I say temperament, was 
rising. He never could stand backtalk from an actress. 
Would I ever forget that terrible moment when he 
bounced his own wife Sari off the set? Irrepressible, did I 
say? The word I was reaching for is incorrigible. 

"That's the trouble with this business," Matty was 
shouting. "A bunch of hams who don't know how lucky 
they are to be eating every day trying to tell the director 
how to interpret their parts." 

"Why you, you barbarian, you has-been" Mona 
screamed. "I'm going to play this part the way Vic Flan- 
ner tells me to play it." 

"I'll let you in on a little secret." Matty threw it back 
in her teeth. "I'm a better director than Flanner. Maybe 
he knows how to get along with the front office better, but 
he never could touch me for real feeling." 

Remember that old wheeze about signing your own 
death warrant? This sounded more like Matty was writ- 
ing his own epitaph. I found myself already thinking of 
him as the late, departed Mr. Moran. 

Mona Moray hadn't been talked to like this since she 
changed her name from Gertrude Schindler. "I refuse to 
stand here and be insulted by an — an old bum," Mona ex- 
claimed in her best dramatic soprano. "Do you realize 
that one word from me to Mr. Mittels and you're back 
in — in the gutter?" Mona was one of those girls who 
sounded a lot better when she had someone writing her 
dialogue. 

"Hams, hams, I'm surrounded by hams!" Matty 
shouted. "Now, are you going to play the scene my way, or 
do I have to get somebody else who can give me what I 
want?" 

I just stood there with an awful silence in my mouth, 



LEGEND THAT WALKS LIKE A MAN 239 

watching what I thought had been the comeback of Matty 
Moran go into reverse. Mittels had pulled every string he 
knew to sign Mona to a new contract and here was Matty, 
in on a pass, firing her! 

"Just whom do you think you are?" Mona demanded. 
She never said who any more. It was beneath her. 

"I think I'm Matty Moran," this character of mine 
shouted back, "and I've fired better actresses than you." 

That's all, brother. Mona flounces off the set, and I be- 
gin getting hot-and-cold flashes. 

Mona must have sprinted over to Mittels' office like 
Mrs. Blankers-Koen, for the next thing we knew the head 
man himself was on the phone. Mr. Moran was to go to 
his office immediately. 

Well, five minutes, ten minutes pass, and the silence on 
the set is thicker than Beverly Hills smog. When I can't 
stand it any more I move across the street to Stage One 
to fortify myself. 

A few minutes later in comes Matty, looking chipper 
as ever, grinning like his last picture has just been held 
over at the Music Hall. 

"In?" I says. 

He put his thumb out and turned it toward the floor in 
that ancient gesture of defeat. 

"Oscar said he'd put me back on second unit, but first 
I had to apologize to Mona Moray." 

"So?" 

"So I say 'Oscar, m'boy, I'd rather turn myself in at the 
Motion Picture Home than take back anything I said to 
that bag!" 

"Matty" — I'm so upset I'm calling him by his first name 
— "hasn't it ever occurred to you that eating a little hum- 
ble pie has its virtues over not eating at all?" 

"Red," he says, not even bothering to answer so foolish 
a question, "have you got a dime handy? I've got to call 
Goldwyn. Sam told me to be sure and get in touch with 



240 



him when he went back into production. Don't be sur- 
prised if I step into an important assignment." 

So now we've got Matty back in Stage One with us all 
the time. I should of known the Matty Morans of our 
town don't come back. They just go on being legends. So 
let's drink up to the fresh carnation and the ready grin of 
a legend that walks like a man. 



241 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 
OF COLONEL DUGGAN 



When I was taking a quick look at a Broadway column 
the other day, my glance was caught by a boldface head- 
ing, "Typical gesture of Joshua Duggan's." 

Now, Joshua Duggan happens to be an interesting fel- 
low, any way you look at him, so I read with eagerness the 
little paragraph that followed. 

Joshua Duggan, Broadway hero recently discharged from the 
army with the rank of full colonel and ribbons from here to 
Hoboken, has taken a precious week off from rehearsal of his 
new show to go to Zodiac, Illinois, to present a posthumous 
silver star to the widow of Master Sergeant Luther Bissell. 
Heartwarming story behind this item is that Luther, a hero 
of both world wars, used to be the doorman at the East Fortieth 
Street theatre where Duggan had his record run in Blow the 
Man Down, which probably would be running yet if Duggan 



242 



hadn't volunteered for active duty six months before Pearl 
Harbor. A week out of a play rehearsal is time that never can 
be recaptured, and it's a long way from the Stork Club to 
Zodiac, but people who know Joshua Duggan and his oversize 
heart aren't surprised to find him putting the heart before the 
box office. In fact, this mission to Zodiac might be called a 
typical Duggan gesture. 

Well, I thought, you knew Duggan, knew him pretty 
well. Surprised? I had to admit I wasn't. But it made me 
stop and think. About that Bissell thing, about the Dug- 
gan outfit, and how we all happened to get together. 

The first time I met Duggan, and Bissell, too, for that 
matter, was back in the summer of '41 when I was the 
Journal's second-string drama critic, which, in my case, 
was a euphemism for glorified legman. This particular 
evening, for instance, I went backstage to interview Dug- 
gan for a Sunday feature. Duggan was an impressive 
character, of course, then as now, one of the few big talents 
in show business, an actor who could direct, a director who 
could write better stuff than most of the guys along the 
street who called themselves playwrights. 

I had first seen Duggan when I was a kid, in a play 
called My Brother's Keeper, on which Duggan had col- 
laborated with Laurence Stallings or somebody like that, 
pretty good stuff as I remember it, pretty daring for those 
days. After that I guess you might have called me a Dug- 
gan fan, for I went along with all of his hits, and even his 
flops were good flops. 

So it was with considerable awe that I sat down in Dug- 
gan's dressing room. Duggan was sitting at his mirror, 
wiping the make-up off his face. He was a powerfully built 
man, with a dark, rugged face, restless, humorous eyes, 
and a mouth that looked as fascinating off stage as it did 
on. As I think back on it, it reminds me of Goering's 
mouth, with its quality of warm good nature that can 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 243 

change so suddenly to a hard line of anger and repressed 
cruelty. It was the quality that made Duggan able to play 
heroes and scoundrels with equal effectiveness, make you 
weep for his gentleness in one play and seethe against 
his villainies in the next. 

There was almost always someone in his dressing room 
to interview him, usually a schoolgirl. This evening was 
no exception. In fact, there were two girls. They watched 
admiringly as he took off his make-up, and he responded 
to their admiration exactly right. I sat and smoked until 
the girls left. 

"Glad to see you, Gumming," Duggan said to me then, 
pronouncing my name with an accuracy to which I was 
not accustomed, since everyone always insisted on adding 
an s on the end. The real Duggan seemed to have none of 
the blackhearted, ingrown, sadistic characteristics of the 
evil old sea captain he had just portrayed so convincingly 
on the stage. 

Everything went along fine and easy. He is one of those 
fellows who interviews himself. He knew what he wanted 
to say, the points he wanted to make, and if my questions 
didn't bring them out he'd lead the conversation his way. 
He was a man of profound conceit, but egotism never dis- 
turbs me in a man who is really as creative as he feels him- 
self to be, and Duggan's egotism had become such a tradi- 
tion that you were inclined to accept it as one of the facts 
of theatre life. 

I don't remember much about the professional side of 
our conversation that night, except maybe the phrase that 
I dutifully copied into my notes and that I happened to 
run across the other day when I was disinterring the re- 
mains of my prewar civilian career: "I became a director" 
(Duggan said) "because I was sick and tired of income 
petent directors getting between me and my characteriza- 
tions. I became a playwright because I became sick and 
tired of trying to delineate the stereotyped, foggy charac- 



244 



terizations of stupid and incompetent playwrights. I be- 
came an actor because I was born that way." 

We batted back and forth for a while the subject of why 
Duggan was the only authentic, dynamic voice left in the 
American theatre, a subject Duggan was well known to 
discuss with considerable intelligence and inexhaustible 
enthusiasm. And then, somehow, we got talking about the 
war. I think I must have asked Duggan how long he ex- 
pected his current hit to run. Duggan turned around and 
gave me a long, deliberate, soul-searching look. "These 
days," he said slowly, with just a touch of that projection 
that made him so popular with the fans in the second bal- 
cony, "in these days," he repeated, "when the world 
balances on a bayonet, you begin to wonder just how im- 
portant your own personal success is." He held me again 
with that famous Duggan look, and then, with a move- 
ment few men could make so significant, he picked up a 
copy of Life that had fallen on the floor. "Look at this," 
he said, with eloquent understatement, and I saw pictures 
of "the onrushing, blitzkrieging German panzers, driving 
the disorganized, panic-stricken Russian army out of 
Orel," and with the disorganized, panic-stricken Life edi- 
tors Greek-chorusing, "Hitler will be in Moscow in three 
weeks." Duggan turned the pages tragically. "And on 
page 32," he said, "Rommel races for Suez." He took a 
long, thoughtful breath. "Cumming," he said, "this is ab- 
solutely off the record, man-to-man, but I've got it from — 
well, I can't tell you his name, but he's pretty high up on 
Marshall's staff — that we're liable to be in this thing 
sooner than most people realize." He slammed his great 
hand down on the dressing table. "And damn it, it can't 
be soon enough for me. Are we just going to sit around and 
worry about good notices and box-office successes while 
French actors and British actors and Russian actors and 
Jewish actors are ground to mincemeat?" 

It may sound a little tired and corny now, but as I re- 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 245 

membered it that night, against a backdrop of Nazi 
triumphs, congressional torpor, and general complacency, 
it sounded pretty exciting. Especially the last part, when 
he stood up and shouted: "The Duggans come from a long 
line of roughnecks and saloon fighters. Fm going to give 
you a real story, but you can't break it until I get the word 
from Washington." 

"From Washington, Mr. Duggan?" I said. 

"Just call me Josh," Duggan said. He rolled the copy 
of Life into a tight club. I wondered if it could be an 
unconscious gesture of rearmament. Then he wrinkled 
his brow and stared at me with a searching objectivity 
that was as disconcerting as it was intended to be. "Can 
you keep a secret?" he said. 

"Why, sure I—" 

"I don't mean the ordinary, Broadway secret. I mean 
a — military secret." 

Later on, of course, the average "military secret" got to 
be a gag. But I still remember how it hit me that night, 
just the ordinary Broadway guy for whom military disci- 
pline and official secrets were strictly melodrama. The 
way Duggan said it, the way his mouth lingered over the 
phrase, the way his eyes challenged mine as he paused, 
made this a moment of great meaning. "I wouldn't trust 
you with this," Duggan continued, "if you didn't strike 
me as an all-right Joe." 

Later I would have laughed. In fact, later I did laugh, 
plenty of times. But that night there was no getting 
around it. I was pleased. I was impressed. I was ready to 
step forward like Nathan Hale, to guard Joshua Dug- 
gan's secret with my life if necessary, my very life, as they 
say in the pulps. 

"Well," Duggan said, dropping his voice an octave as if 
to make it difficult for enemy agents, "I've been asked by 
the top brass to form a psychological-warfare outfit. I 
don't know if you realize just how important that is. The 



246 



Nazis have won some of their biggest battles with psycho- 
logical warfare. We have to beat them at their own game. 
That's why the army needs the best brains in the country 
in that department. And not just intellectuals. Men with 
guts. Because we'll have to be right on the front line with 
the infantry. Sometimes even behind enemy lines." 
Duggan paused and looked at me again, his behind- 
enemy-lines look. 

"In times like this," Duggan went on, "personal values 
do one of these." A thick but expressive hand nipped over 
the other. "The playboy big shot with his hatful of dough 
becomes a bum. The little guy you wouldn't think of 
looking at a second time turns out to be the man you de- 
pend on. For instance — " Duggan drew me closer — "I'll 
give you a tip. Maybe you noticed the doorman when you 
came in. Maybe you didn't. The old codger with the specs 
who looks like he's half-asleep all the time?" I nodded, 
though I doubt if I could have picked him out from a 
dozen other doormen all around town. "Well, that's 
Luther Bissell. You may not believe it, but Luther's rec- 
ord in the last war was just as good as Sergeant York's. 
Stormed a Boche machine-gun nest with three slugs in 
him. When his ammunition ran out, he kept on going un- 
til he finally took care of the Heinie gun crew with his 
bayonet. He came out of the war with every combat medal 
there is. He doesn't know it yet, but if I can get him past 
the physical — he's practically blind in one eye — I'm going 
to take him into the outfit. Just the man to make soldiers 
of you Broadway guys." 

Duggan was wiping the make-up base off his neck as he 
spoke. But in his mind he was already a soldier of democ- 
racy storming the fascist bastions. Looking into his large 
dressing-table mirror as he talked to me, he warmed to his 
subject. "There's the man you really ought to be inter- 
viewing: Luther Bissell. One of the troubles with this 
country is that we forget our heroes. We honor them for a 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 247 

brief moment like star football players whose names are 
lost in the next season's shuffle." Duggan rose, impressively, 
a big man who knew how to carry his weight, and moved 
toward me as I had seen him so often sweeping upstage 
toward the apron for a thunderous curtain speech. "Yes- 
terday's hero may only be today's doorman, but how do 
we know that destiny hasn't singled him out for greater 
deeds in the struggle that lies ahead?" 

As I say, it sounds a little overboard now, even for Dug- 
gan, who can get away with that sort of stuff. But those 
were the fever days when the press was talking about the 
invincibility of the Wehrmacht and the air was charged 
with the fear and excitement of approaching hostilities. 
Anyway, to a newspaperman, there did seem to be a story in 
Bissell. So I stopped to have a talk with him at the door. 
This was the first time I really got a good look at him. He 
was sitting on a chair near the stage door with his specta- 
cles halfway down his nose, apparently absorbed in some- 
thing he was reading. He was around fifty, I would have 
guessed, a mild-looking man with thinning hair and round, 
pink cheeks, a curious combination that gave me the im- 
pression of a perennial adolescent encased in the fatty 
frame of dormant middle age. As I drew closer to him I 
saw that the magazine in his lap was the American Legion 
Magazine and that his apparent absorption was informal 
slumber. 

He awoke as I approached, however, nodding and smil- 
ing in an absent-minded, humble way. "Evenin', Mr. Cum- 
mings, didn't recognize you there for a moment. These 
old peepers of mine ain't gettin' any sharper." 

"We were just talking about you, Luther," I said. "You 
seem to have quite a booster in Mr. Duggan." 

Bissell pressed his lips together and shook his head 
reverently. "There's a wonderful man, sir, a wonderful 
man." 

"Known him a long time?" 



248 



"Met him in France in the Great War — the first one, I 
mean. But I didn't see him again until '22, when he 
came to play a benefit in the hospital I was convalescing 
at. Mr. Duggan, he's been mighty good to me. If it wasn't 
for him, I'd never have no good job like this. And every 
Christmas it's: 'Here's ten dollars, Luth. Go out and get 
yourself ten good cigars. None of those cheap ones, now. 
Ten dollar cigars.' " Bissell chuckled. "That's Mr. Dug- 
gan for you. Never forgets Luther." 

When it came to talking about what he had done in the 
war, Bissell wasn't one of those shucks-it-was-nothing fel- 
lows. He talked freely enough about the achievement 
side of it, the prisoners he had taken, the enemies he had 
killed, the honors he had won. He remembered it all the 
way a man remembers something he never succeeds in 
achieving again, with the dates of the battles, the obscure 
French places pronounced with surprising correctness, 
and the names of officers and comrades sharply retained 
and alive for him after more than twenty years. 

"What about this time?" I said. "Feel like doing it 
again?" 

"You bet," he said. "I'd like to get another crack at 
them Huns. But I don't know. I ain't as young as I was. 
The army might take one look at me and say, 'Luther, go 
on back to the old soldiers' home.' The mizzuz tells me 
I'm a darned fool even to think about it. But I don't know, 
it'd feel pretty good to be back in again. Mr. Duggan, he's 
goin' in, and maybe he can fix it for me. It sure would be a 
privilege to go along with a man like that!" 

I did the story about Luther, the old-fire-horse angle, 
the kind of thing we all would have upchucked at the year 
before, but it went pretty good now, for war isn't only 
man's most ruthless activity but his most sentimental. I 
guess without the schmalz it would be just so damned 
painful and vicious that we couldn't take it. Smear a nice 
soft salve on the wound and it doesn't look so bad. Sprin- 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 249 

kle a lot of Luther Bissells around, look back at them 
through a gauze of pain-absorbent years, and a war doesn't 
seem so bad at all. 

I didn't hear from Duggan again until my piece on 
Luther appeared. Then, to my surprise, he telephoned. 
His voice was crisp and efficient and pitched a little differ- 
ently. "Hello, Cumming," he said. "Duggan here. I'd like 
you to come to my dressing room tonight at seven-thirty. 
Don't say anything about this to anybody. See you then." 

When I went through the stage door, a little early, Bis- 
sell stood up and greeted me, a little excited, I thought. 
"Good evening, sir," he said. "Glad you came, sir." 

"Listen, Luther," I said, "don't give me this sir treat- 
ment. I'm a country boy myself. And anyway you're old 
enough to be my father." 

"That doesn't matter, sir," Luther said. "One of my 
best officers at Catigny was a young man just out of college. 
Lieutenant Alvin Sabath. He was a fine soldier. Would 
of been a fine man if he had lived." 

I passed on through to Duggan's dressing room, feeling 
as if I were all ready to be laid beside young Sabath in 
some distant burial ground. I didn't realize until I got in- 
side the door that I was attending a meeting. Lou Ross, 
the press agent, Jack Woodridge, the young playwright, 
Tom Lovell, the stage manager, and three or four others 
were sitting around stiffly and expectantly, looking at Josh 
Duggan in his brand-new tailored major's uniform. Dug- 
gan was striding up and down, with the kind of military 
bearing most generals would like to have. Four ribbons on 
his tunic gave him the appearance of an old war dog. He 
wore the World War I Victory Ribbon, the First German 
Occupation, the Brazilian Cruz de Sol, and the Mexican 
Aguila Azteca. He waited stiffly until all of us were set- 
tled. As on stage, he had the ability to make his silences 
momentous. 

"I think you all have a pretty good idea what I've called 



250 



you men together for," he began. "I've picked you out be- 
cause I thought you were the best officer material Broad- 
way had to offer. Being an officer is a responsibility and a 
privilege. Your reward may be the highest honors this 
country has to give. But the price may be high — the high- 
est any man can pay. If any one of you men feel for one rea- 
son or another that you aren't ready to make that sacrifice, 
this is the time to tell me. There's no disgrace in pulling 
out now. I'd rather have you do that than come in with 
any reservations." 

Duggan looked into all of our faces, one by one. His 
eyes were hard and yet understanding. The man-of-iron- 
but-at-bottom-a-human-being type. All of us, Lou, Jack, 
Tom, exchanged grim and self-conscious glances. A few 
minutes before, I was wolfing a sturgeon sandwich at 
Reuben's, Jack and Tom were laughing over coffee and 
brandy with their wives at Sardi's. Now somehow, here in 
this dressing room, we were already at war, already 
breathing the heavy air of life-and-death decisions. 

The gathering broke up with a soldierly: "Thank you, 
men. I'll take your applications for commissions down to 
Washington tomorrow and walk them through myself. 
Nothing's official yet, of course, but off the record you can 
start picking out your uniforms. If there are any hitches — 
if they think you're too much of a pinko, for instance, 
Ross, I'll take the matter up with George — er — General 
Marshall — personally. All right, men, I'll be in touch with 
you." He shook hands all around. I don't think there was 
anybody there — even Jack, who's won the Critics' Award — 
who didn't feel this was the most important thing that 
ever had happened to him. When Duggan got to me he 
said, "Don't go, Cumming. I've got a job for you." It was 
my first order. 

"I want you to work up a little news release, Cum- 
ming," he said when the others had left. "Something 
about the Duggan Psychological Warfare Unit being or- 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 251 

ganized in my dressing room. Not that I'm looking for any 
personal publicity, you understand. I've seen my name in 
enough papers to keep my ego happy. But I figured it 
would be a good thing for the outfit." 

It didn't take me long to throw something together, and 
then, since Duggan was still on stage, I wandered out to the 
stage door to see how Luther was getting along. He was 
half-dozing over a tabloid; but as I approached, he rose, 
very formally, almost as if he were going to come to atten- 
tion. 

"Well, how was the meeting, Mr. Cummings? The old 
man got you all signed up?" 

"Yes," I said. "I just gone and done it." 

Luther took my hand, pumped it seriously, and said: 
"Congratulations, Mr. Cummings, good luck and God 
bless you. There's nothing in this life for a man like an- 
swering the call to the colors. And it's a real honor to 
serve under a man like Major Duggan." Then the ex- 
pression that always anticipated his childlike emotions 
concentrated in concern. "The — the old man — he didn't 
happen to say nothing about me, did he?" 

I had to tell him that Duggan hadn't mentioned him. 

His lips pushed out in what was very much like a little 
boy's pout. "That's funny, I thought — I kind of hoped he 
— Major Duggan — would ask me to the meeting. Said 
something to me about it over a week ago. But he's got so 
much on his mind these days, maybe he forgot. Or maybe 
this meeting was only for prospective officers. Yes, that 
must be it." He sucked on his bottom lip the way he had 
a habit of doing when he wasn't too sure of himself. 
Which was, in Luther's case, I'm afraid, a great deal of 
the time. "Say, Mr. Cummings, I realize I don't really 
know you good enough to ask a favor, but, well — if you 
could just put in a word for me with the old man, sort of 
find out how serious he is about taking me along, I sure 
would appreciate it a whole lot. I know the major don't 



252 



mean to forget me, but thinking about so many things 
like he is all the time, it's kind of hard to pin him down 
sometimes. I sure hope he figures to take me." 

I promised Luther I'd put it up to the old man — he 
was beginning to get me talking like that, too — but later 
in the evening, when Duggan and I were going over my 
copy in his dressing room, I couldn't get any farther with 
it than Luther had. "I'm working on Bissell," was all 
he'd say. "Nothing definite yet." 

"He's sure knocking himself out to go," I said. 

"Bissell would be a definite asset," Duggan said. "I 
hope I get him through." 

"With his war record, and your pull in Washington," 
I said, "I should think it would be a cinch, Josh." 

"By the way, Cumming," Duggan said, and from his 
tone I squared myself for a this-is-hurting-me-more-than- 
it-hurts-you speech, "I know last time you were here I 
asked you to call me Josh. Well, as far as I'm concerned 
personally, that still goes. But, well, now that I'm in this 
monkey suit," he said, with a smile to take the sting out 
of it, "I think it would be a better idea if you gave me the 
Major Duggan. Not that / give a damn, you understand. 
It's just the respect due the uniform, the rank, not the 
guy that's in it. When we're alone, of course, the Josh is 
good enough for me." 

"Sold, Major," I said. "I'm just not used to it, but . . ." 

"I understand," Duggan said, and he put his arm 
around me, very chummy, or I suppose now it should be 
very comradely. "And by the way, don't let Luther get 
you all up in the air about his case. As an old army man he 
ought to know better than to go outside of channels any- 
way. If he tries to pester you again, just tell him it's none 
of your business, Major Duggan is looking after that." 

Duggan and I — Major Duggan, I should say — left to- 
gether. Luther was still on the door. I could see from the 
way he opened his mouth and got ready to start talking 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 253 

when he saw Duggan that he had his little speech all pre- 
pared. "Major Duggan, I'm sure I don't want to bother 
you, but I just wonder whether it would be possible . . ." 

It was too slow a windup, with too many words, and I 
could see right away that Luther was never going to get 
the pitch off. 

"See you tomorrow, Luther. Good night," Duggan said, 
not even slowing his pace, brushing him off so deftly that 
it could have seemed as if he actually hadn't heard him at 
all. "Great character, Luther," Duggan said when we 
were out on the street. "The real killer type. Unobtrusive, 
gentle, with real humility. I love him like my own 
brother." 

That was just a line from the Duggan script, of course. 
Aroused to self-defense and abnormal struggle for sur- 
vival, Luther probably did act very well that day at 
Chateau-Thierry. But that was twenty-five years ago, 
twenty-five anticlimactic and sedentary years, during 
which time whatever combativeness had heated Luther's 
nature had cooled to servility and impotence. Courage in 
battle, you might say, is compounded partly of fearless 
initiative, partly of blind obedience, and it was only the 
selfless, blindly obedient Luther left sitting at the door. 

Every time I passed Luther that next week or so, he'd 
put the arm on me to talk to "the old man" about his 
joining the outfit. But every time I tried to bring up the 
subject to Duggan, he'd brush me off. It was hard to fig- 
ure. If he had the pull with the War Department he 
claimed to have — and the way our commissions were com- 
ing through that seemed to be on the level — it shouldn't 
have been much trouble to push through some sort of 
rating for an old soldier like Luther, bad eyes and all. 
And if he knew he could do it, it hardly seemed possible 
that he would be sadistic enough to keep Luther delib- 
erately on the hook. Yet, I had to admit, that's the way it 
seemed. As the day for the closing of the show and Dug- 



254 



gan's departure for Washington drew closer, Luther be- 
came too nervous even to take his customary snoozes. 
Whenever Dugan was off stage, Luther would keep an eye 
cocked toward the dressing room in hope of catching the 
major as he came out. But every time he started toward 
Duggan, stammering and blinking in his overanxiousness 
to make his plea, Duggan would parry him, sometimes 
even turning his back and walking off deliberately, leav- 
ing Luther standing there in a fog of frustration. 

The way Luther looked at me the first time I showed 
up in uniform made me realize that I was going to have 
to talk to Duggan once more, no matter how hot he got. 
As soon as he saw me, Luther jumped up, put away his 
glasses, and went into his act, only it wasn't an act with 
Luther, it was just what happens to a man who dwells too 
long on past glories. "Good evening, Lieutenant," Luther 
said, and his hand rose in a half-salute. "You sure look 
fine in your uniform, sir. Only, if you're going in to see 
the old man, I might suggest, sir, that you square your 
cap a little bit — that's more like it." He stepped back and 
appraised me carefully. "And you're a little out of uni- 
form, I'm afraid, sir. That button there on the right-hand 
pocket." He buttoned it for me and straightened my 
blouse a little in the back. "There you are, sir. All ready 
to present yourself. And by the way, Lieutenant, if you 
get a chance to . . ." 

"I will, Luther," I promised. "I'll try to see what goes." 

"Thank you, Lieutenant," he said, and I got that half- 
salute again. 

Duggan was in his dressing room, with his uniform 
blouse off and his khaki shirt open at the neck. "Look me 
over, Maj," I said. 

"Come to attention," Duggan said severely. 

It seemed just a little silly, coming to attention in an 
actor's dressing room, but there I was. 

"All right, carry on," Duggan said. He offered me a 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 255 

cigarette. "Sit down, Lieutenant." Then he lapsed into 
his own self — or rather, since his plastic personality 
seemed to include so many selves — his previous self. 
"Don't let me frighten you with that 'Attention' stuff Al. 
Just because I've got these oak leaves on my collar, I know 
I don't belong to the WPPA, you know, the West Point 
Protective Association. But I just want to get you broken 
in so you'll know how to act in the presence of field-grade 
officers." 

For a man who didn't give a damn about that sort of 
thing, it seemed to me Duggan was putting us through 
an awful lot of military hoops. 

"Well, we're just about ready to report in Washing- 
ton," Duggan said. "But before we do, I think it might be 
a good idea to have a couple of drill periods — just to brush 
up on our protocol a little bit, so we won't look so wet 
behind the ears when we report to Colonel Partridge. 
He's in charge of the whole PW Division, regular army, 
so we don't want to walk in like a bunch of Broadway 
wiseguys. So next week, every other night, I thought I'd 
have Luther put you boys through a little close-order 
drill." 

"Luther," I said. "Did you get Luther through?" 

"Well, I couldn't get him that warrant because his eyes 
were too bad," Duggan said. "But I guess the staff- 
sergeant rating will come through all right." 

The way he said it I had the distinct feeling that he 
knew he could have got this all the time. 

"But why don't you tell Luther?" I said. "This is the 
most important thing that's happened to him since he 
stormed that machine-gun nest." 

"That's why I didn't want to break it to him until I 
was absolutely sure," Duggan said. "I felt it would be a 
little cruel to break it to him prematurely, just in case 
the thing fell through. Why, I wouldn't hurt Luther for 
anything in the world." 



256 



"Then if I may say so, Major," I said — I called him 
nothing but "Major" now, with a kind of perverse glee — 
"why don't you take him off the hook?" 

"I'll notify him just as soon as I have word from Wash- 
ington," Duggan said. "That will be all, Lieutenant." 

Duggan's military conduct tended toward the complex, 
but, in relation to myself at least, I was beginning to rec- 
ognize a pattern. When he liked me he called me Al. 
When he liked me but felt like playing soldier he called 
me Lieutenant. When he didn't like me and felt like play- 
ing soldier he called me Cumming. And when he just 
plain didn't like me he called me whatever came into his 
head, which was considerable. 

Next afternoon, when I had to check with Duggan on 
the chart of chain of command I had to draw up for him, 
I found myself brushing by Luther myself. It was too 
hard to look at him. Duggan went over my chart punc- 
tiliously, as if it were the table of command of the entire 
American army, and then, when he had made the last 
small change, he said, "Oh, by the way, Lieutenant, tell 
Bissell the old man says front and center." 

I did just as I was told. I said, "The old man says front 
and center." I wish you could have seen Luther come to 
life. He followed me in, as correct and on his toes as a 
Prussian corporal, and when he saw Duggan, even though 
he wasn't in uniform, he came to stiff attention, with his 
tail out and his nose up in the air like a bird dog. 

"As you were," Duggan said. 

Luther relaxed a little, but even at ease he looked more 
attentive than the rest of us did at attention. Then began 
the little pageant that Duggan must have been building 
up to all this time. 

"Staff Sergeant Bissell," Duggan began, in a deep, 
March of Time intonation, "I have the honor to welcome 
you back into the Army of the United States." 

Luther stepped forward like a West Point senior re- 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 257 

ceiving his diploma. "Thank you, Major," he said, shook 
hands, stepped back and saluted. 

"Sergeant Bissell," Duggan went on, "as your com- 
manding officer I am proud to reactivate such an illus- 
trious soldier. And as your friend of long standing, I want 
to express my personal pleasure at seeing you back in the 
ranks as my comrade in arms." 

There was even more to it than that, I think, but that 
will give you a rough idea. If I had been out front, at 
least I could have applauded when the scene was over, or 
walked out or something, but there I was, trapped in my 
uniform, having to stand by and watch. 

If ever there were two hams cut out to play straight for 
each other, I thought, here they were. The only trouble 
was that Luther was too much on the level. There were 
tears in his eyes when he left the room. I can't say what 
was in Duggan's eyes, because I couldn't look. 

A few nights later Major Duggan's Psychological War- 
fare Unit assembled for the first time in all its military 
glory, on the empty stage of Duggan's theatre. None of us 
fooled anybody in our uniforms. Somehow I couldn't 
seem to get mine to look like a uniform. Tom's had been 
made specially for him by his tailor. He even had pleats 
in his trousers. Lou's was at least two sizes too large. In 
fact, there was only one man in the hall who really looked 
like a soldier, and that was Sergeant Bissell. There was 
something about the way Luther fitted into that uniform 
that made you take him almost as seriously as he took 
himself. Buried somewhere in that uniform, with combat 
ribbons covering his breast and the service stripes running 
up his arm, was the pink-cheeked doorman with the soft 
body and the sleepy face. Even with his specs, the peaches- 
and-cream complexion, and the gentle expression, Luther 
managed to create the illusion of a martial figure. It was 
almost as if his uniform and cap sternly squared away 
were like a coat of mail behind which the most insignifi- 



258 



cant and timid of men could present a formidable front. 

For the next half-hour we sweated through the alien 
intricacies of close-order drill, and under Luther's expert 
command we were surprised to find ourselves, grown men 
and relatively sophisticated, taking absurd delight in 
keeping in step with one another or carrying out a flank- 
ing motion. The tediousness of it for me, I know, was 
dissipated by the fascination of being in on Luther's meta- 
morphosis. 

Then Major Duggan appeared. Luther brought us to 
attention, saluted smartly, said, in his new sergeant's 
voice, "The platoon is ready for inspection, sir," returned 
Duggan's salute with a snap, and fell into step behind 
him as Duggan started the rounds of his first inspection. 

They were both playing it for deadly earnest, with Dug- 
gan stopping to inspect this man's tie, another man's shoes, 
while Luther, always a pace behind and in perfect step, 
produced from somewhere (there was no bulge in his 
uniform to indicate it) a little black notebook in which 
he scribbled obediently the Major's comments. 

Then Luther gave us "at ease," and Duggan gave us his 
inaugural address. It was the kind of fight talk a com- 
manding officer probably gives his men on the eve of 
battle, or rather, the kind he would give if he had the 
talent and imagination of Joshua Duggan. "Tonight," 
he said, "we hold our first inspection in an empty theatre 
in the heart of New York City. But who knows in what 
theatre of war our final inspection will be held? Who can 
tell what ordeals we will be compelled to undergo in the 
fulfillment of our duties, and who can tell which ones of 
us will be called upon to make the final sacrifice before 
the last 'fall out' is given?" 

I looked at Lou, and Lou winked at Tom, and almost 
every one of us, I think, fought back the impulse to break 
up, but when I looked at Luther, standing there with his 
braid and his medals, unbelievably transformed into a 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 259 

figure of importance, the whole show seemed to be like 
nothing more than a marvelously acted and costumed 
charade. 

One week after the do-or-die inaugural, we embarked 
for the Munitions Building, where, except for the proto- 
col kept alive by Duggan and Luther, we all found our- 
selves with our bottoms planted in swivel chairs, doing 
pretty much the same kind of work we previously had 
been doing in striped ties and tweeds. It was our job to 
work up propaganda schemes to undermine the Japanese 
will to fight. Since it was the kind of brainwork only 
slightly removed from our civilian activities, all of us soon 
found ourselves relapsing into the relaxed postures and 
attitudes of pre-military creation. To Luther, whose heart 
was set on maintaining smart military discipline, these 
aberrations from standard operating procedure were a 
source of constant shock and frustration. And Duggan, of 
course, took everything with solemnity. 

The feeling between the two camps, Duggan and Lu- 
ther against the rest of us, was more or less an armed 
truce most of the time, with Luther the butt of most of 
our comedy and Duggan coming in for our more pro- 
found observations. Only once in a great while did it 
flare into the open. One Saturday morning, for instance, 
Luther gave the order to fall in for inspection. Jack, who 
always had a tendency to be nervous when he worked, 
was trying to finish a script that was supposed to have a 
noon deadline. "For God's sake, I'm trying to knock out a 
script. Do we have to play soldier all the time?" 

Luther just looked at him unbelievingly, with deep 
hurt in his eyes. 

At this moment Duggan, who had happened to over- 
hear this mutiny, strode up. "Sergeant," he said, "put this 
officer on report for disciplinary action." 

Jack got by with nothing more than what Duggan called 
"an official reprimand," which was little more than an 



260 



opportunity for Duggan to play a scene from his favorite 
drama — himself. An hour later I'm sure both Duggan and 
Jack had forgotten all about it, but Luther was still brood- 
ing about it. When work was over for the day — retreat, 
Luther called it — he caught up with Jack in the hallway. 
"I'm sure sorry, sir, if I got you in the doghouse with the 
old man," Luther said. "I was just trying to do my duty, 
sir. I'm sure glad the old man let you off with a reprimand. 
That won't show on your service record, sir." 

But despite these differences of orientation between 
Luther and the rest of us, this must have been the happiest 
period of his life. Whenever he was in the presence of 
Duggan I'm sure he had the feeling that he was living life 
deeply, significantly, and efficiently. I'm sure he had not 
the slightest idea what we were supposed to be doing, but, 
trusting Duggan with blind devotion, he was ready to 
follow him around the globe and serve him around the 
clock. He called for Duggan at his hotel in the mornings. 
He took him home in the evenings. He took his uniforms 
to be cleaned. He saddle-soaped his boots. He made and 
served coffee for him every afternoon. There seemed to 
be no errand too menial for Luther to perform gladly, 
as long as it was "for the old man." And not only perform 
them, but lend to them a sense of eminence, a sense of im- 
portance. Going out to the snack bar to get cigarettes for 
Duggan seemed to become in his mind, and perhaps in 
Duggan's, too, a courageous penetration into enemy terri- 
tory. 

In spite of all kidding, the interruptions, and the occa- 
sional irritation, I found myself missing Luther when he 
flew out with Duggan for the New Britain invasion. He 
had been grim and warrior-like about the adventure. 
Duggan, of course, had taken leave of us like a man who 
was going to parachute alone into Tokyo itself. But Lou 
was offering two-to-one the pair never would get beyond 
Honolulu, and getting no takers. 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 261 

When word came that they actually had shoved off for 
New Britain, though, I think we all felt a little lumpy. 
We told one another that Duggan, for all the comedy, 
was a pre-Pearl Harbor volunteer when most men his age 
were sitting back and letting their kids run the show. And 
at the thought of anything happening to Luther, everyone 
got a little moist. 

But a few weeks later, the New Britain fighting still in 
the headlines, they were back. Duggan, now a lieutenant 
colonel, was wearing a new Purple Heart and the Legion 
of Merit and had a tremendous tale to tell. They had gone 
in with the first wave, it seemed (though it was never 
really explained what they were doing there), and Dug- 
gan had been hit in the knee with shrapnel and would 
have bled to death if Sergeant Bissell hadn't carried him 
back to an emergency aid station. The story and Duggan's 
wound grew with each telling, although for a man who 
had been at death's door such a short time before, he 
looked remarkably fit. I tried to get Luther alone and pin 
him down, but either he had received a thorough briefing 
from Duggan or he had heard the old man tell the story 
so often he had come to believe it. "Believe me, you would 
have been proud of the old man," he told me. "I must 
have carried him almost a mile to the beach, and not a 
peep out of him." 

"Luther, are you sure this whole thing didn't take place 
in a bar in Honolulu?" Tom wanted to know. "Maybe it 
was the Royal Hawaiian you carried him to." 

Luther just waited with his pained face until the laugh- 
ter died down. "Gentlemen," he said, "before this thing 
is over, I hope you'll all get a chance to go up front with 
the old man." 

During their fourteen-day leave, Duggan took Luther 
to 21, a place he had always wanted to go, and introduced 
him to Jack and Mac, to Quent Reynolds, to John 
O'Hara, to everybody as "the man who saved my life." 



262 



Lennie Lyons devoted a paragraph to Luther, and Adela 
Rogers St. John gushed over two columns on the insep- 
arable bond between these two Broadway heroes. 

Eventually the excitement wore off and we all plugged 
away again, with all the jokes about the chair-borne sol- 
diers and wearing the red-and-black ribbon for action 
with a typewriter. Once in a while, of course, work halted 
for military ceremonies, like the Saturday morning Dug- 
gan presented Luther with his second bronze star. For 
this event Luther's wife came all the way from Brooklyn. 
She was a sweet-faced, homey-looking woman who never 
should have tried to get dressed up. For the occasion she 
was wearing an orchid corsage Duggan had sent her. 
The three of them smiled for the news photographers. 
I still have a picture of it clipped from the Daily News, 
with Duggan upstaging Luther a little as he pins the medal 
on him, while Mrs. Bissell looks on proudly. 

Then all of a sudden our entire outfit, penned up so 
long that the real war seemed as if it were being fought 
on another planet, got the word that we were moving out 
to the Pacific. Duggan, on his last trip out, had made a 
number with MacArthur (that's how these things were 
done, I came to find), and as a result we were all going to 
work the Philippines invasion, beaming radio messages 
to Filipino resistance groups. 

The week before we shoved off, a strange thing hap- 
pened. Mrs. Bissell came in and. asked to see Duggan 
alone. She was in there a long time, maybe twenty min- 
utes, and when she came out she walked right on through 
without even stopping to nod at those of us she had met. I 
happened to follow her into Duggan's office, for a regular 
conference. He held forth for four or five minutes, as he 
often did, about the importance of the work we were do- 
ing, and then, with an expression of martyrdom, he said, 
"You know, sometimes I'm disappointed in human na- 
ture. So few people ever measure up to their responsibili- 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 263 

ties. Take Mrs. Bissell, for instance. She just asked me 
not to take Luther back overseas, because, she says, he isn't 
what he used to be." 

"So what did you say, Colonel?" I said. 

"What could I say?" Duggan wanted to know. "Why, it 
would break Luther's heart to be left behind. I just 
wouldn't tell an old campaigner like Luther that he was 
going to have to miss out on the Philippines show." 

Just to keep the records straight I grabbed a cup of 
coffee with Luther at the snack bar one morning and put 
the question to him about our expedition. 

"Well, I don't know," Luther said, and I thought there 
was more weariness in his voice than usual. "I seen a lot of 
places and a lot of fighting in my time. And I already 
been to the Pacific. Them islands is all the same. But if 
the old man thinks he needs me . . ." 

The old man needs you to make his coffee, snap to at- 
tention, and hang up his breeches, I thought to myself. 

But no matter how anxious or reluctant Luther was to 
return to the wars, he played his part to the hilt all the 
way over. On the C-54 going to Honolulu, when Tom, who 
had had a hard night in San Francisco, dropped into the 
first of two reclining seats (it was a bucket job), Luther 
spoke right up. "The Colonel isn't aboard yet, Captain," 
he reminded Tom. "Don't you think you'd better wait 
and see where the old man wants to ride?" 

And when we landed at Hickam, Luther wanted to 
line us up and call the roll, even though there weren't a 
dozen of us. But after bouncing around on those buckets 
for twenty-four hours, we were in no mood for military 
sport, not even to indulge Sergeant Bissell. 

But it was when we shoved off from the staging area 
with regular components of the 6th Army that Duggan 
and Luther really began to express themselves. Any way 
you looked at it we were a freak outfit, not slated to hit the 
beach until after it had been secured; and in cases like 



264 



that, when you're among fighting men tuning up for an 
invasion, discretion is not only the better but the only 
part of valor. But the way Duggan and Luther behaved, 
and no doubt felt, the Colonel (he had made his full 
colonelcy) and the Sergeant were MacArthur and his 
chief of staff about to throw their army into the jaws of 
death. At Luther's suggestion, several inspections were 
held on the afterdeck, with thousands of jeering GI's on 
hand to watch the comic opera. Every time we passed 
Duggan on deck we were supposed to salute, although 
even combat officers were dispensing with the formality 
except upon first greeting in the morning. But the pay-off 
came when Duggan called us together for instruction 
from Luther on hand-to-hand combat. 

"These Japs are tricky," Duggan said, standing on a 
hatch with the sun highlighting his strong face like a baby 
spot. "Even if we're back in Headquarters territory, you 
can never tell when the Nips will make a surprise night 
raid. I want every one of my men to know how to defend 
himself if necessary. I don't want to have to live with my- 
self after this show is over if I have to think I lost a man 
through carelessness. So every afternoon until we land 
I've asked Sergeant Bissell to give you an hour of routine 
judo." 

"Can you show us how to wrest a typewriter from a Jap 
in hand-to-hand psychological warfare?" Jack called. 

Everybody laughed except Duggan and Luther. "You 
can save the comedy for when you go back to Lindy's," 
Duggan said. "Whether you realize it or not, gentlemen, 
this is a matter of life and death." 

Everybody passed whispered jokes around to everybody 
else. It was like hearing Duggan in one of his plays telling 
another character that some hoked-up situation was life 
or death. He made it sound convincing because he read 
his lines so well. But actually you knew that this was just a 
theatre and that the character, if he did, subsequently, 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 265 

fall lifeless across the apron, would rise again the moment 
the curtain was down. 

We got to Leyte with very little trouble. The Kami- 
kazes gave some of the ships around us a shaking up, but 
the landing turned out to be easier than anybody ex- 
pected. The first five waves went in with practically no 
opposition. Our outfit went in with the sixth, all except 
Duggan and Luther, who were waiting to go in with 
MacArthur and Osmena. 

Even though resistance was light, there was plenty of 
confusion on the beach as the various HQ's tried to set 
themselves up. We had a portable radio transmitter and 
started beaming our stuff as soon as we got ashore. Dug- 
gan and Luther showed up a couple of hours later. I 
didn't have time to ask whether Luther had saved his life 
yet or not. Duggan and Luther inspected our position, and 
then a terrible thing was discovered. Luther had forgot- 
ten the coffee, the "joe," as he and Duggan called it. Lu- 
ther was ordered back to the Quartermaster tent to get 
some more. It was growing dark by that time. There 
wasn't too much happening on the beach. It looked more 
like the aftermath of a Rose Bowl game than a battle, 
with jeeps, trucks, half-tracks, tanks, everything the army 
had that moved pouring out of LST's and getting snarled 
in traffic jams as the beachmasters muffed their signals in 
the dark. Out at sea a terrific naval battle seemed to be 
going on, but the only casualties I saw on the beach were 
from occasional snipers in the palm trees. There was 
one sniper who winged a couple near our transmitter be- 
fore somebody picked him off. He fell practically at Dug- 
gan's feet, a little man with a face we would have called 
cute if he had been a houseboy. 

"Maybe we've moved up a little too close, Al," Duggan 
said. His voice sounded unnaturally high and the careful 
enunciation was gone. 

I was scared, too, even though this was still a long way 



266 



from actual combat, but I said, "Close? This isn't close. 
Not for an outfit that's supposed to be ready for action 
behind enemy lines." 

"It's not myself I'm thinking about," Duggan said. 
"It's the equipment. And none of you men has been ex- 
posed to battle conditions before." 

A few minutes later Colonel Talley happened to pass 
by in a jeep. He was on MacArthur's staff, one of the 
men through whom Duggan worked the deal that got us 
here. "We've just taken the airstrip, Josh," Talley said. 
From the way he said it you could see that he enjoyed the 
intimacy of calling a stage celebrity Josh. "I'm flying back 
to Guam on the first plane out. Be back in a day or so. 
Want to come along?" 

Duggan looked at the dead Jap, looked out at the dark- 
ening night with the lightninglike flashes on the horizon, 
and then addressed us all without looking directly into 
any one face. "Might not be a bad idea for me to hop over 
to Guam," he said. "I've been wanting to have a talk 
with Colonel Partridge. Tom, you'll be in command un- 
til I return. Carry on, men. And God bless you!" 

About an hour later Luther came. He had the coffee 
but he had had a hard time finding us in the dark. When 
he came into our transmitting shack, he was breathing 
hard, and his face looked old. 

"Well, it was tough going, but I got the old man's cof- 
fee, Lieutenant," he said. Then, when he didn't see him, 
"By the way, where is the Colonel?" 

"He's gone back to Guam," I said. 

"No kidding, Lieutenant, where is he?" Luther said. 

"I said he's gone back to Guam, Luther," I said. 

He looked around like a little boy who's lost his parents 
in a department store. "But he — the old man — he 
wouldn't go without me." 

"He left with Colonel Talley," Tom said. "Maybe you 
can still catch him at MacArthur's HQ." 



THE TYPICAL GESTURE 267 

"Sure, that's it, that's it," Luther said. "He's probably 
waiting for me up there. Hell, the old man wouldn't go 
anywhere without me." He stood up, and for the first 
time since I had known him I saw that he was deeply 
shaken. His face had gone very white, and his head was 
almost imperceptibly shaking like an old man's. It wasn't 
that he was frightened. He was undermined, humiliated, 
deeply embarrassed. We were all sitting around the shack, 
in the most informal dress and position — just a bunch of 
radio guys who happened to draw a somewhat inconven- 
ient assignment. But Luther came to attention, saluted us 
just like a scene from Journey's End, and said: "Thank 
you for the information, sir. Good night, gentlemen." 

We kept knocking out our radio stuff all night, telling 
Filipino guerrillas what was happening and where they 
could tie in to our advance patrols, and about five a.m., 
while we were trying to keep awake with the help of that 
coffee Luther had brought for Duggan the night before, 
an MP came to the door and said he wanted an officer 
from the radio outfit to follow him. I followed him down 
the beach, threading my way through ack-ack outfits, 
stalled jeeps, supply dumps, and all the rest of the amaz- 
ing gear that man drags with him onto enemy beaches, 
until at last we came to a little clump of sandbrush, where 
Luther was lying. 

"One of your men?" the MP said. 

Sprawled there on his side with his smashed specta- 
cles lying near by, he didn't look very impressive any 
more. He didn't look the way a hero is supposed to look. 
He just looked crumpled, deflated, like a doorman who 
falls asleep on the job. 

"A sniper?" I said. 

"No, one of our trucks," the MP said. "Ran into him 
last night in the dark. The driver wasn't using his lights, 
of course, and I guess the old man couldn't see so good, 
anyway. Thought maybe since he was one of your guys 



268 



you'd want to take him up to your camp and bury him." 
I don't remember what I thought about as I carried 
him back. I don't remember thinking anything one way 
or another. I just carried him back. We dug a grave for 
him in the sand, and then we lowered him down, facing 
the USA. Then, since nobody had anything to say, we all 
just stood at attention for one minute of silence. Luther 
should have seen us. It was the most military moment 
of our entire pseudomilitary careers. 

I suppose the one thought in all our minds was, Thank 
God, Duggan isn't here to give us the curtain speech. But 
if Luther had to go, too bad he couldn't have gone in style, 
storming a Jap machine-gun nest. Well, by the time Dug- 
gan got back to "21" he was sure to have Luther storming 
a half dozen machine-gun nests. 

Saluting the grave and listening to the bugler blow his 
tinny requiem, I couldn't help thinking: This isn't on the 
level. We're really back on that empty Broadway stage and 
my show-business mind is jumping way ahead of Duggan's 
inaugural address. After all, nobody dies in an outfit like 
ours. Nobody is supposed to die. We wear soldier suits 
and we salute and call each other by our military titles. 
But it's all a charade, the kind of charade that only Dug- 
gan and Luther really know how to play — the kind of 
charade that Colonel Duggan, on his way to Zodiac, Illi- 
nois, to decorate Luther's widow, has to go on playing 
alone, now that the soft and faithful flesh of Luther Bissell 
lies in its sandy and unnecessary grave. 



269 



MEAL TICKET 



The old man had just come in off the docks with Eddie 
and they were drinking beer in the kitchen. The old lady 
didn't like them drinking beer in her kitchen — precious 
little work space in these cold-water flats — but it was bet- 
ter than having them drink themselves into the blind 
staggers down at Paddy's Waterfront Bar & Grill. She 
didn't like them sitting there slopping it down until they 
were too full to stand up straight and she'd have to shake 
some life into them so Pop could grope his way to bed 
while Eddie wandered out into the night in search of such 
evils as only the Devil knew. 

Eddie was saying, "Pop, what gives with our West Side 
boys these days — can't punch their way outa a paper bag. 
Last night that Mickey Cochrane, a real chumpola, and 
he's supposed to be the pride of the West Side. Harlem — 



270 



Little Italy — that's where they got the fighters now. Jeez, 
in my day ..." 

The old lady looked up from the meat loaf she was 
preparing, but she didn't say anything. She had heard all 
she wanted to hear about his day. She remembered all 
too well the days of glory for Eddie (Honeyboy) Fin- 
neran. He had been the "crowd-pleasing kayo artist from 
the West Side" then, making three, sometimes four thou- 
sand dollars a fight. In his best year, '42, he had earned 
nearly thirty thousand. Quite a take for the son of a long- 
shoreman who had worked hard all his life for his two or 
three thousand a year. Ma hadn't gone for the fighting. 
She hadn't been impressed when Eddie said, "Just think, 
Ma, in forty-five minutes Friday night I'll make more 
money than the old man makes in a whole year." 

Pop would go to the fights, and their older daughter 
Molly and her husband Leo, but not Ma. She'd stay home 
with Vince, the baby of the family, and wait for the ex- 
citement to be over. One night when Eddie was fighting 
Joey Kaplan, his East Side rival, and she was worried for 
him because the sports writers had wondered if Honey- 
boy Finneran wasn't "being taken along too fast," that 
night she had turned on the radio for a minute and she 
heard: "Finneran's got a bad gash over his right eye — 
but he keeps boring in — lots of heart — and another hard 
right hand to Finneran's eye!" She had heard the hoarse, 
blood-thirsty yowl of the crowd and that was enough. She 
had snapped the radio off and waited. Pop came home 
late and very drunk because the referee had stopped the 
fight in the ninth to save Honeyboy from further punish- 
ment. "'Magine a skinny little sheeney from the East Side 
lickin' our Honeyboy," the old man said. For days he had 
stayed away from his favorite saloons, he was that 
ashamed. And Eddie had hid out in a hotel until his face 
looked good enough for him to come home. Stayed up in 
a hotel and belted whiskey with all the trash of the 



271 



neighborhood, man and woman alike, who were perfectly 
content to tell Eddie how he would have beaten the little 
East Side Jew-boy if only for some lousy breaks, all the 
while helping Eddie get rid of his more-money-in-forty- 
five-minutes-than-Pop-made-in-a-year. 

Oh yes, Ma remembered his days all right. She remem- 
bered how he made thirty thousand in the ring and lost it 
in the horse rooms. And she remembered how Pop quit 
work because Eddie was a main-eventer at the Garden and 
what was the sense of making a lousy ten dollars a day 
when Eddie had a grand on him all the time. She re- 
membered how Pop spent nearly all his waking time in 
the bars buying drinks for his longshore pals and review- 
ing Honeyboy's triumphs round by round. And she remem- 
bered how a cold-water flat wasn't good enough for the 
Finnerans any more, how Eddie insisted they move away 
from their old block between 10th and nth, even over 
Ma's objections. She had lived there since before Eddie 
was born and if she needed help or company there was 
always Mrs. Boyle and Mrs. Hanrahan right in the build- 
ing, and Fred the janitor was a friend of theirs, and she 
liked to know that Father Corcoran was just around the 
corner. But they had moved because Eddie was proud 
and the money was burning his pocket, and because Pop 
and Molly had argued that if Eddie was so famous why 
shouldn't they have a taste of better things? Yes, and Ma 
remembered, not with bitterness but with a sense of real- 
ism, how long those better things had lasted. Less than 
two years after Eddie's retirement Pop was back in the 
shape-up again, kicking back to the hiring boss to make 
sure of a day's pay, and the Finnerans were back in their 
railroad flat. And what did Eddie — their briefly famous 
Honeyboy — have to show for it but a flattened nose and 
one bad eye and a state of mind that wasn't exactly 
punchy, but wasn't quite up to normal, either? Eddie was 
excitable, unstable, with fits of delusion, and his vision 



272 



was turned in upon the past. He lived more in his day 
than in the present and he had no capacity for work. The 
quick big money of his ring purses had spoiled him for 
ordinary living. A docker's wage was sucker's work. Not 
vicious enough for crime or conscientious enough for hon- 
est labor, he had drifted through the years of his retire- 
ment in search of a soft touch — working for the books, do- 
ing a little gambling, tied into the numbers racket on the 
waterfront. Ma hated to think the word, for she had tried 
to bring her children up to fear God and honor their re- 
sponsibilities, but Eddie Finneran was a bum. So she said 
nothing while they sat at the table talking fights and the 
dearth of good Irish fighters on the West Side and the 
glories of the old days when the wearers of the green 
dominated the ring, Mickey Walker and Tommy Lough- 
ran, Jimmy McLarnin and Billy Conn. 

Ma felt better when she heard the door creak open and 
Vince come in. Vince — she never looked at him or thought 
about him without adding automatically: Vince is a good 
boy. Like day and night, she would think, comparing 
Vince with Eddie. Her youngest was a quiet, serious boy 
who worked hard and minded his own business. He was 
making a good record at St. Xavier's. Well, at least one 
Finneran was going to finish high school. Vince was her 
baby, her prize; somehow she had managed to keep him 
off the streets and out of Eddie's circle of street-corner ad- 
mirers who still thought it was something special to be an 
ex-pug whose name had once flashed from the Garden 
marquee. Vince never had a dirty mouth like Eddie and 
his crowd. Vince didn't call every girl a broad and leer at 
every passing skirt with heavy-humored obscenities. Vince 
was good in chemistry. His teacher thought he should 
specialize in it and become a teacher or a laboratory tech- 
nician. 

Vince came up behind his mother, spun her around and 



MEAL TICKET 273 

kissed her. "Well, Mom, we beat St. Tom's, fifty- two- 
forty-nine, a basket in the last thirty seconds." 

"And I bet I know who made the basket," his mother 
said. 

"I got lucky," Vince said. He was tall for his age, nearly 
six feet, and thin and wiry, only a hundred and forty 
pounds; he was captain of the school basketball team 
and an all-around athlete, with speed and timing, though 
lacking Eddie's aggressiveness. 

It made her feel proud, Pop on the docks, just as her 
old man had been, and Eddie, who never even finished 
high school, roaming around up to no good, nobody on 
either side of the family who even saw four years of high 
school, and now Vince going through with honors. She 
looked at the tall, slender boy with the serious eyes and 
the thoughtful, remote way of wandering in and settling 
down with a book, apparently unaware of the same old 
conversation (Did Pop remember Eddie's fight with Red 
Collins? and was Marciano going to give it to Walcott 
again? and could Armstrong have taken Sugar Ray if 
they had met in '38 instead of '43?). 

Vince was settling down to some homework when Eddie 
came over and squatted on the edge of his chair. 

"How's the muscle, kid?" 

"No complaints, Eddie." 

"How you feel about the Golden Gloves?" 

"The Golden Gloves?" 

"Yeah, I entered you." 

"Me in the Golden Gloves? You might've asked me, 
Eddie. You might've asked." 

Eddie had been sparring with Vince ever since the kid 
brother was old enough to hold his hands up. Eddie was 
proud of the way Vince had learned to jab, to cross with 
his right and to slip punches. 

"Against those amateur punks you'll be a cinch," Eddie 



274 



said. "Just do what I learned you and you'll be a shoo-in. 
You'll have height and reach on 'em. You c'n stand back 
'n pepper 'em." 

"I never said I wanted to box in the Golden Gloves," 
Vince said. 

The old man got into it. "You go in there and knock 
their blocks off, Vinnie m'boy. Show 'em the Finnerans 
are scrappers." With one punch the old man finished off 
an imaginary opponent. 

Ma moved in. "What's all this talk about scrappers?" 

"It's just the amateurs, Ma. We entered Vinnie in the 
Gloves." 

"You leave Vince alone," Ma said. "Vince is gonna 
amount to something. Vince plays basketball, a nice clean 
game. Who wants him in the filthy prize fights?" 

"It ain't a prize fight, Ma," Eddie argued. "A prize 
fight's for money. For blood. Three-minute rounds. Small 
gloves. This is for sport, see? Jus' three two-minute 
rounds, gloves like pillows, and the contest" (he remem- 
bered, like the announcers, not to say "fight") "is stopped 
at the first sign of a scratch. Nobody gets hurt in the 
amateurs." 

Mrs. Finneran looked at Vince. Vince wasn't saying 
anything. "Vince, is this something you want to do?" 

Vince's old man looked at him hard. A good student, 
that was all very well, but you couldn't buy a round at 
Paddy's on the strength of a B-plus in chemistry. But an- 
other fighter in the family. That was something to throw 
out your chest about. 

Vince looked at his old man and felt the pressure of it. 
He wanted to please Ma and get through St. Xavier's, but 
he wanted his Pop to be proud of him, too. The summer 
was coming on and he had a half-day job. He wouldn't 
have to train too hard for the amateurs. He was in pretty 
good shape from the basketball season. 

"I'll get you down to the C.Y.O. and I'll work out with 



275 



you." Eddie talked fast. "It'll do me good too. Get this 
blubber off me. You'll be a cinch, kid, a cinch. The talk o' 
the neighborhood." 

"Well, I guess it can't do me any harm," Vince said. 

"All right, all right, now leave him alone, let 'im do 
his homework." Ma broke it up. 

Eddie was on time for his training dates with Vince at 
the C.Y.O. It was the only thing he had ever been on 
time for, except his own fights. He taught the kid how to 
stand and move, how to tie up an opponent in the clinches 
and how to turn his right toe in a little and get his body 
into it when he threw the right. He taught him to punch, 
not in single blows but in combinations, to an inner 
rhythm. He taught him how to weave and feint and pick 
off punches with his gloves, how to suck an opponent into 
leading and how to counter. Vince didn't look like a nat- 
ural fighter. He had never loved and lived fighting on the 
streets as Eddie had. But he studied his brother's instruc- 
tions the same way he tackled math or chemistry. And he 
was lithe and quick. Eddie saw he would never be as ag- 
gressive as he himself had been, but he had a faster, more 
accurate left hand, and by following Eddie's tips on 
punching power he could hurt you with a right hand. 

A perfectionist, Vince found himself enjoying the mas- 
tery of a new sport. It was good exercise, something like 
fencing. You fenced for an opening, you tried to draw 
your opponent off guard. It was fun to make him miss 
and step in to nail him before he recovered. There was 
something to it all right. It wasn't just sock and be socked. 
It was science. It wasn't so different from chemistry, in a 
way. You worked out a formula and then you experi- 
mented on the basis of it and then you adjusted the for- 
mula to the new facts. In a month he was stepping around 
Eddie, reddening his brother's nose with his snaky lefts 
and smothering his bull-like rushes. 

Eddie lost weight, looked younger, was beginning to 



276 



find himself. For the first time since he had hung up the 
gloves, his life began to have focus. He would be the dis- 
coverer, the trainer, the manager of Vinnie Finneran, suc- 
cessor to the old, crowd-pleasing Honeyboy. 

It was the talk of the neighborhood the way Vinnie 
breezed through the Golden Gloves, how he went eight 
straight bouts without dropping a round. He was a shade 
of the old Irish boxing masters, Slattery and Loughran 
and Tunney and McLarnin. In the City Finals he met a 
strong Puerto Rican boy who crowded him but every time 
the other boy rushed in Vinnie peppered him until finally 
a faint streak of red trickled from the Puerto Rican's 
cheekbone and the bout was stopped. Eddie lifted Vinnie 
up and carried him around the ring and Pop climbed 
through the ropes and hugged him and shook his big 
hands together to salute friends in the crowd. 

That night in the Finnerans' flat it was like old times. 
Too much like them to please Ma. There were cronies of 
Pop's, and Eddie and his crowd in their striped T-shirts, 
and Molly and her husband Leo, and Sally, the younger 
daughter, with a boy friend, all of them telling each other 
just how good Vinnie was and what he had done to this 
boy and that, as if they had not all been there and seen it 
with their own eyes. Drinking beer and wallowing in 
this new little puddle of glory, Eddie had the center of 
the stage. It reminded him of the days when he was a win- 
ning fighter and the guys made a circle around him to hear 
what he had to say. Even if this was only amateur stuff, 
they were beginning to listen again as Eddie talked up the 
prowess of his kid brother. "He did just like I told 'v \ 
he's got class, he's cute, he could turn pro and make i 
bundle, a second Billy Graham." 

Then everybody was talking at once, each with his or 
her own small life made to seem a little larger through the 
magnifying glass of success. Eddie with his taste of the old 
prestige, and Pop crowing over his pals and feeling less 



277 



of a failure for being able to show around the winning 
wristwatch with the inscription on the back. The brother- 
in-law Leo had brought a couple of his best customers to 
the fight — there was nothing like having a fighter in the 
family to help the liquor business. Everybody likes to 
know the fighters, an unconscious attraction to our brutal 
beginnings. Molly and Sally were enjoying it too; it was 
exciting, relief from the humdrum. Some of the silver 
light of Vinnie's local fame had begun to spill over onto 
them. People kept asking them how it felt to have a 
champion in the family. 

The only quiet ones at the celebration that night were 
Vinnie and Ma. Vinnie didn't see what all the shouting 
was about. He had won, and it hadn't been too difficult 
but it didn't feel much different from coming home after 
a winning basketball game. He didn't feel like fighting 
the short rounds over and over again in conversation. He 
looked on with detached amusement as Eddie demon- 
strated to a crowd of admirers exactly how Vince had 
opened the other boy's cheek. "He'll go t' the top," he 
kept repeating in a kind of self-hypnosis, "if he keeps doin' 
like I show 'im he'll go right to the top, we could make a 
bundle if he ever turns pro." 

Ma helped serve the beer and the coffee and was polite 
when she was spoken to, but she would have liked to have 
tossed the whole bunch of noisy fair-weather parasites 
out of the place. Backslappers and spongers. She remem- 
bered the flattery and the free loading when Eddie was 
in the money. Of course Vince had more common sense, 
more character, but she was afraid of this fight world with 
its quick fame and quick money. Oh, there was always 
Tunney to point to as the West Side boy who had made 
good, but right here in her own neighborhood, on the 
docks working alongside Pop and lounging around with 
Eddie she knew how many ex-pugs there were who had 
had a taste of four-figure money for a year or two and then 



278 



had slipped back intp the crowd, some of them with fool- 
ish gummy grins on their faces, and some like Eddie 
spoiled for everyday work at ordinary money. 

Next morning Eddie clipped out of the paper the squib 
on the bottom of the third sports page: "Brother of 
Honeyboy Finneran, Ex-Boxer, Wins Amateur Title." 
Then he put on his sports jacket over his wine-colored 
T-shirt and went uptown to the Forrest Hotel to look up 
his old manager, Specs Golders. Specs was crying the 
usual managerial blues. Except for a Robinson or a 
Marciano, there were no big draws anymore. And no 
young blood. The kids you got didn't want to train; give 
them a few big wins and you couldn't tell them anything. 
"I'm so disgusted I'm ready to go into the shoe business 
with my brother-in-law," Specs summed it up. 

Eddie told Specs about the kid brother and made it 
sound big. "You know I'd level with you, Specs. You know 
I ain't just shittin' ya 'cause he's the kid brud. Vince is 
sharper 'n blue blades. Like the good old days. How 
many good white boys around these days? Vince is money 
in the bank." 

Specs said he was buddies with the Garden crowd again. 
Next time his light-heavyweight got a main event he could 
probably spot Vince in the six-round special. 

"How much?" 

"Five." 

Five hundred. Honeyboy had started at fifty and 
clubbed his way up, but now with the Finneran name and 
Specs' connections it was half a G. Then a semi-windup, 
fifteen hundred, a few of those and up into the feature 
bout, three or four thousand, maybe five with the televi- 
sion. He keeps winning and he's fighting for a percent- 
age, 20 per cent of $60,000, 30 per cent of $90,000, title 
fights, and maybe some day, if they got the breaks, a real 
pay night in six-figure money. Eddie would have tailor- 



MEAL TICKET 279 

made suits, $175 and up, a big suite in a plush hotel, fur 
coats and ice for the pick of the broads, big men would call 
him for tickets, Toots Shor would slap him on the back 
and insult him with affection, the columnists would 
press him to recall some favorite anecdotes, he'd take 
Vince to Paris to fight this Humez or whoever they had 
over there, there would be French broads and a Jaguar 
and champagne wine and a big night in the casino, there 
would be sucker tours against soft touches from Boston to 
Seattle, they'd move, they'd live, Eddie and Specs in part- 
nership, good new kids would beg 'em to manage them, 
they'd find a heavyweight and finagle a jackpot. 

"How's about we cut like this," Eddie said. "Fifty for 
Vince, twenny-five for you, twenny-five for me." 

"For me, because you made money for me and you're 
a friend of mine, I'll only take one-third, point three three 
three," Specs said. "The rest you and the kid split as you 
see fit." 

He and Vince could take the two-thirds and cut it down 
the middle, Eddie figured. After all, this was his idea. He 
was opening the doors. And he'd do the teaching, the 
worrying, the greasing. Vince was a careful kid, a saver. 
One third of five- and ten-thousand dollar purses would 
add up for him. 

"A deal," Eddie said. 

"And expenses off the top," Specs added. 

"You would steal your own mother's glass eye," Eddie 
said, with admiration. 

"If he's as good as you say, we'll make a few dollars," 
Specs said. 

"On the head of my mother," Eddie said. "Right now 
he's better 'n I was when I was good." 

"You were never good," Specs said. "You drew the 
money because they liked to see you laugh when you got 
hurt." 



280 



Eddie was hurt this time, too, so he laughed and they 
shook hands. "You watch, we'll make a bundle," Eddie 
said. 

Eddie had to start working for his money right away. 
He had to go down and talk the kid brother into turning 
pro. Vince said, What about school? He had promised 
his mother to finish. He didn't like the idea of turning 
pro. In the long run a high-school education could even 
mean more money. 

Eddie said, "Who's knocking the school? You go to 
school and you train in the afternoons. You can't read 
them books all the time. 'Stead of going out for basketball 
or something you spar 'n punch the bag. Fidel La Barba, 
the flyweight champion remember?, he went to college 'n 
boxed and you take this kid Vejar, he's at N.Y.U. right 
now and he's making nice money boxing. Look kid, here's 
the clincher, for one Garden main event — and Specs 'n 
me '11 get you there, believe me — you'll make more money 
than twelve months in a job." 

"And you really think I'll have as easy a time in the pros 
and I did in the amateurs?" 

"If you work," Eddie said, "if you keep practicing what 
I learn you, a breeze, a romp, there's nobody around c'n 
box anymore, you'll be too fast 'n too clever for 'em, they 
won't lay a glove on you." 

"I guess the family could use the dough," Vince said. 

"Now you're thinkin'," Eddie said. "I'll tell Specs to 
make the six-round Garden match for you. Don't worry, 
we'll dig up some crud to make you look good. And tell 
you what, kid, the first fight you take the whole purse, the 
whole five hundred except for expenses. After that Specs 
and I '11 take a regular cut." 

"Five hundred," Vince said. "I wouldn't have to work 
after school." 

"Peanuts," Eddie said. "When it rolls in it'll roll in 
big. Plenny for everybody." 



MEAL TICKET 281 

Ma didn't want to believe it when she finally heard. 
She said she knew Eddie would try anything but she 
couldn't understand Vince. Vince said he was doing it 
partly for her. "Not for me," she said. All he had to do was 
finish high school for her. So he could amount to some- 
thing. Vince said she didn't understand, he would only 
have enough fights to salt some money away and then he'd 
quit. Ma looked at him hard. "I know these leeches. Eddie 
and that chiselin' manager Specs. You win, you make 
money for them and they'll never let you go. Not until 
your face is beaten in like Eddie's and that good head 
you've got on your shoulders is . . ."A lump in her throat 
saved her having to say it. 

"I won't be like Eddie," Vince said. "For one thing I'm 
a boxer, he was a slugger. I duck and slip away and pick 
the punches off with my gloves." 

His mother said, "I don't want to hear about it. It's that 
Eddie. My own flesh and blood, but he's a no-good. You 
think he worries about you? You think he stays up nights 
worrying what might happen to you? He's thinking about 
silk shirts and winters in Miami. People who work for 
their money, he calls them suckers." 

Just the same, the match was made and Vince went into 
training at the C.Y.O. gym. Vince was classy in the gym, 
he could make the light bag sound like a snare drum 
now and the sparring partners crowded him foolishly 
while he snapped their heads back with lightning jabs 
and moved in for rapid combinations. 

Eddie went uptown and ordered a suit from Nat Lewis 
on the strength of Vinnie's promise. He felt good, full of 
bounce, no more street-corner loafer and fringer of the 
mob. He was the old Honeyboy. The way he came into 
places, he already looked like money. A few big wins and 
he could swagger into Shor's and get one of the choice 
tables against the front wall. 

Pop was feeling pretty chipper, too. He wasn't bother- 



282 



ing to shape for the afternoon shift because he was over at 
the gym every afternoon presiding over Vinnie's work- 
outs. He'd take his pals with him, including Bart Mc- 
Gann, the business agent of his local and a political wheel. 
He had promised Bart a couple of ringsides. McGann was 
beginning to treat Pop like an equal now. "Well, with a 
chip off the old block fightin* in the Garden I don't expect 
we'll see you in the shape much longer, Finneran." 

Old Man Finneran didn't expect so, either. Nice break 
having a neighborhood hero and a big breadwinner in 
the family again. Not that Pop would ask much of Vinnie. 
Just grub and beer money and maybe a little house in 
Florida to retire in after a while. 

Leo, the brother-in-law, called Eddie to hold half a 
dozen ringside tickets for him; he was taking two good 
prospective customers and their wives. "If the kid is really 
as good as Eddie says," Leo told Vince's older sister, "I'm 
liable to double my sales. Take the boys out to the train- 
ing camp, get Vinnie to have dinner with 'em at Moore's — 
it'll give my business a shot in the arm." 

"I'll never forget the first time Eddie fought a main 
event in the Garden," Molly said. "He bought me my 
beaver coat. It's beat-up now but I still have to use it. I 
could sure do with a new coat." 

And back in the Finnerans' cold-water flat, Sally, the 
sixteen-year-old, was dreaming her tough-minded little 
dreams, too. This dingy tenement, steaming in summer 
and bone-cold in winter, may be all right for Ma and Pop. 
But these days a young girl with her looks wanted some- 
thing better. A nicer neighborhood, nicer boys, some 
place you wouldn't be ashamed to take a nice fellow if you 
should be lucky enough to find one. A five-room apart- 
ment on the Upper Drive. Maybe, if Vince turned out to 
be a drawing card, he'd do that for them. The sister of the 
champion. 

In the Finneran household the tension mounted as with 



MEAL TICKET 283 

an army facing invasion day. It was Fight minus eight, 
F minus seven, six. . . . Eddie was a busy man, working 
out with Specs the tactics for the fight, hovering over 
Vince and watching his diet, on the phone to friends 
wanting tickets, selling a block of seats around the neigh- 
borhood so the matchmaker would be impressed with 
Vinnie's following, buttonholing reporters in the res- 
taurants and telling anybody and everybody what the kid 
brother was going to do to Georgie Packer. 

Packer was a Negro veteran who had gone as far as 
small-club main events and then slid back into the pre- 
liminaries. He was slow and wild and his legs were used 
up after four rounds. He was rough and he was willing 
and his left hook could hurt you if it landed, but he was 
pretty well punched out now, his reflexes were gone and 
this was just another purse for him before he racked up. 
In public Eddie carried on about what a rugged test this 
was for Vinnie, but privately he told the chums that Spec 
had lined up a real soft touch so Vinnie could score in his 
pro debut. "Packer'll be packed up and shipped home 
to Palookaville before it goes halfway," Eddie promised. 

As the days before the fight flew off like calendar sheets 
in an old movie, Ma was a ghost around the house, moving 
silently in a shroud of disapproval. She listened and she 
watched, and felt like throwing them all out of the house, 
Pop, Eddie, Sally, Molly, Leo, the whole selfish lot of 
them. She watched Vince closely, too. He listened to the 
advice Eddie kept telling him, nodding and going over it 
in his mind. He would look around as if the place were no 
longer familiar to him and he couldn't find a comfortable 
seat to settle himself in. In a sharp voice that didn't sound 
like his, he kept saying that he wasn't nervous, that he 
felt fine, why should he worry?, Eddie said he had met bet- 
ter boys than Packer in the amateurs, it was just another 
fight. But his nerves talked back: Who was he kidding? 
This was six three-minute rounds instead of three two's, 



284 



hard six-ounce gloves instead of those sixteen-ounce pillows, 
and this Georgie Packer was an old war-horse with over 
seventy pro fights. 

The day of the fight Ma was ready to do something about 
it. Something drastic. She thought of a lot of crazy things. 
Maybe there was something she could drop in Vince's tea 
to make him sick to his stomach so they would have to 
call off the fight. Or she would pretend she had a stroke so 
Vince would be too upset to report at the Garden. Then 
he'd be suspended and the bad dream would be over. She 
even had crazy visions of going to the other fighter and 
telling him Vince's weaknesses as she had picked them up 
from Eddie's loudmouthing. But, of course, she couldn't 
do that. That was just a whim of desperation. Finally she 
didn't do anything but go around the corner to see her 
favorite priest. 

Father Corcoran was a neighborhood boy in his middle 
thirties who had made a name for himself standing up for 
the members of his waterfront parish against the mobbers 
on the docks. He was an old friend of Tunney's cousin, Ben, 
the longshore rank-and-filer, and he liked the fights, all 
right, but he couldn't see it for Vince. He was a realist 
and he thought the business was only for those who had 
nothing better to do. But how to stop it? He could try 
reasoning with Vince, though it probably wouldn't do 
much good if the boy won and found the going easy. May- 
be all they could do was to pray that he lose and work it 
out of his system before the start of the fall term. 

Ma went into the church and knelt before her saint, 
Veronica. "Oh, Sweet Saint Veronica, intercede with the 
Heavenly Father," she prayed. "I don't know if He knows 
anything about the boxing game. I don't know if there's 
any way for a boy to be thoroughly defeated without get- 
ting hurt. But if there is, please ask Him to bring 
that defeat to my Vince tonight. Lead him out of the 



285 



valley of temptation. Give him the strength to turn his 
back on evil and to find that there are no easy ways and 
that every man should do a dollar's work for every dollar. 
Have him knocked out tonight, dear Lord, and may it not 
injure his sweet face but only the selfish spirits leeching to 
fatten on him. In the Name of the Father and the Son and 
the Holy Ghost, amen." 

Vince was sitting stiff and strange in the bare dressing 
room. Eddie had been getting around giving the big 
hello to familiar faces and taking bows as the old Honey- 
boy. People remembered the great fight he had put up 
with Kaplan and listened respectfully when he talked up 
Vinnie. "Watch 'em t'night — tuhriffic — a year from now 
he's in with the title — a second McLarnin." 

"Don't just sit there, kid," Eddie said. "Get up, move 
around, warm up, you're on next." 

Vince did as he was told, but he felt stiff in his joints. 
Beyond the dressing-room door the roar of the crowd 
sounded like a waterfall that can be turned on and off. 
He tried not to listen. It had a strange effect on his stom- 
ach. It wasn't fear of Packer, but of something larger, 
something that made him feel small and helpless, as if 
he were a leaf carried along by a rushing torrent toward 
the waterfall. 

The last four-rounder was over and the kid who had 
gone out bouncing on his toes and full of beans came in 
gasping for breath and leaking blood from one eye. Vince 
had no memory of being moved through the door down 
the long aisle to the ring. He was only numbly aware of 
being in the ring under the bright lights with Eddie rub- 
bing encouraging circles into his back and winking at 
writers he recognized in the press row. He was only 
numbly aware of Georgie Packer, a short, squat, dark figure 
with a boneless nose and thickening scar tissue over the 
eyes. He was completely unaware of Pop, with the Mc- 



286 



Ganns, and Leo and Molly with the prospective cus- 
tomers, and Sally in a new dress, all looking for the win, 
with front seats reserved on the bandwagon. 

The bell rang and the place hushed. Vince crossed him- 
self automatically and automatically moved out toward 
the dark, bearlike form weaving in front of him. Packer 
lunged and Vince flicked a jab and danced away. The 
jabs irritated Packer like mosquito bites and he lunged 
in to swat them away and Vince jab- jab-jabbed and skirted 
sideways. Packer missed a vicious left hook at the bell. 
Vince was more tired than he should have been when he 
sat down. Maybe nerves. "Relax, relax, kid," Eddie said. 
"It's all yours. Keep that left in his face but cross with the 
right. You're not throwing enough punches. You got the 
round but you gotta be more aggressive." 

Round Two looked like a retake on Round One with 
Vince jabbing and floating away. Packer wanted to fight, 
but he couldn't. His fights were all in the record book 
now. Vince's left hand and the footwork were fancy, but 
he was reluctant to mix it with Packer. Packer was doing 
all the leading and missing. Vince was countering, but in 
a light-hitting, mechanically defensive way. The crowd 
was stamping its feet in unison to show its boredom. 
Packer, the old club fighter, answered the crowd's deri- 
sion with a clumsy try, grabbing Vince with his left arm 
and bringing up a looping right uppercut. It was a wild, 
unorthodox punch, not the kind that Vince had been 
trained to counter, and it flushed him on the side of the 
jaw and knocked him sideways. Before Packer could fol- 
low it up the round was over. 

Vince turned to a neutral corner instead of toward his 
stool. The crowd laughed and shouted. Vince thought he 
was in a basketball game and the other team had scored 
a basket. Eddie ran out and rushed him to their corner. 
The sharp tickle of smelling salts was in his nose and ice 
burned into his neck. "Sucker punch . . . Don't let 'im 



MEAL TICKET 287 

get set . . . Move around and throw more rights ..." 
He heard Eddie in his ear and then the mouthpiece was be- 
ing pushed into his face, a wet sponge came down smack 
on his head and many hands were lifting him to his feet 
and shoving him toward the middle of the ring. Before he 
could do any of the things Eddie had told him, Packer was 
on him again, walking in and punching and brushing off 
the jabs and hooking to the body. Packer was after him 
and somehow none of the things that had held them off in 
the amateurs would work on this one. Packer charged in 
and bulled him into a corner with his body so the kid 
couldn't dance around and use the footwork. Packer just 
leaned his head on the kid's shoulder and banged away. It 
wasn't a science, it wasn't an experiment, it was a fight, 
and Vince felt cornered and helpless against the swarm 
of punches. The mouthpiece was choking off his breath- 
ing, felt too big for his mouth, if he could get rid of the 
mouthpiece he could suck the air in, get a fresh start . . . 
Then wham something harder than a leather glove could 
possibly be struck him in the mouth and the mouthpiece 
flew out and Vince was sagging to his knees to look for it 
when the bell rang at last. 

Eddie and Specs ran across and dragged Vince back and 
worked over him feverishly, Eddie wild-eyed, frantic, a 
lose to a punched-out bum like Packer meant curtains, no 
soap, no money, no ride, no meal ticket, back to the street 
corners with the Hell's Kitchen cowboys. "Kid, you gotta 
do it, you gotta do it, take the play away from him, punch 
hard, baby, please kid, we're countin' on ya, Vinnie Vince 
Vinnie can ya see me?, are ya listenin'?, don't let us down 
Vinnie boy ..." 

Over Specs' and Eddie's shoulders the referee was lean- 
ing in to watch the boy's eyes. The handlers were so busy 
pumping false strength and bogus courage into their be- 
wildered fighter that they didn't notice the referee un- 
til, just as the ten-second warning buzzer sounded and 



2S8 



Vince was trying to find his feet, he staggered up into the 
arms of the official. "Sorry kid, that's all." He went over 
and raised Packer's hand. 

An old sports writer turned to a colleague. "His name 
may be Finneran, but he's sure no Honeyboy. Honeyboy 
liked to fight." 

"I saw this kid in the gym, he looked good," the other 
man said. 

"A gymnasium fighter," the old sports writer said. "I've 
seen hundreds of 'em. They fight because someone 
teaches 'em how and everything they know goes out the 
window the first time they get tagged." 

"I wonder if this new boy from St. Paul is any good," 
said the other writer, ready for the next fight. 

Leo had planned to take the prospective buyers back to 
the dressing room to see Vince after the fight, but now he 
thought he'd forget the whole thing. He felt a little em- 
barrassed in front of his customers for having done so 
much talking about the boy. 

Pop was quiet too. McGann had been polite, but in a 
kind of laughing way, as he said, "Don't take it to heart, 
Finneran. One lad who can use his mitts and another with 
a head on his shoulders, that should be enough for any 
man." Pop nodded. It would be hard to go back to the 
Monday morning shape-up. Seven-thirty in the morning. 
The same old grind. 

Specs stood outside the dressing-room door while Vince 
got dressed. "I suppose I could get him another fight, but 
I think I'd be wasting my time. The boy doesn't take 
much of a punch. He c'n box but he's got no heart for it. 
He's gonna get hurt and he won't make no money." 

"Okay, okay, I got my eyesight, I could see it," Eddie 
said. 

"I'm sorry, Honeyboy, it could of been a nice thing." 

"The hell with that," Eddie said. Even the night he had 



MEAL TICKET 289 

decided to hang up the gloves, he hadn't felt so lost, so 
empty and the hell with everything. "I'm gonna go out 'n 
drink whiskey." 

The flat was quiet when Vince came in. Sitting there 
waiting was Ma and nobody else. 

"Vince?" 

"Yes, Ma." 

"Let me see how you look." 

She led him toward the lamp. There was a bruise on 
his jaw and a swelling around one eye. 

"I lost, Ma. I was NG." 

"I heard about it on the radio." 

"Looks like I better keep that delivery job after school." 

"That's right, Vince. Get into your pajamas. I'll make 
you a sandwich." 

She went into the kitchen and she thought how Pop and 
Eddie and Leo and Molly and Sally must be feeling. 
Well, it served them right. It wasn't that easy. When 
would they ever learn it wasn't that easy? 

Eddie didn't come in until after four when all the bars 
were closed. He had trouble finding his way to the bath- 
room in time to throw up. 

"Eddie, is that you?" his mother called from the bed- 
room. 

"Yeah, 's'me. Go t' sleep, Ma, I'm aw-right." Eddie felt 
very weak. He felt as if he was going to pitch head first 
into the can. He'd sleep it off and then go down to Paddy's 
for a beer. There was a kid washing dishes in there who 
was pretty handy with his dukes, Paddy said. Maybe 
Eddie could get a-hold of him and . . . 

He threw up until his stomach was emptied and then he 
groped his way to the narrow bedroom he shared with 
Vince. He fell into bed, and in a little while he was snor- 
ing through his broken old fighter's nose and dreaming 
his ex-fighter dreams. The dishwasher at Paddy's was 



290 



turning out to be a champ and Eddie was up there with 
the Nat Lewis sport shirts and the big suites and the fancy 
broads, and everybody was saying See if you c'n fix me up 
with a pair for Friday night, Eddie, Honeyboy, Eddie, old 
pal. 



291 



THIRD NIGHTCAP, WITH 
HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES 



It was one o'clock and the waiters were wishing the two 
young men would go home when Mead came in and sat 
down. "Hello, Sheridan. Hello, Peters," he said, and 
paused for their invitation to join them. 

Sheridan and Peters exchanged a look that said they 
were ready to leave, but would have to linger. After all, 
who were they, young writers who had written a me- 
diocre Broadway success in collaboration, to walk out on 
the author of The Days Beyond? That play had been re- 
quired reading in Baker's course when they were at Yale 
ten years ago. 

Mead saw the look in their eyes, for he was a student 
of looks and eyes, but he didn't care. It was late and he 
was lonely. Bending his tall, unathletic body to the table, 
he slid into the booth. His dark, heavy-lidded eyes 
twitched behind their thick lenses as he observed his 



292 



youthful, not yet twitching companions. His long, nerv- 
ous fingers reached out for things with which to occupy 
themselves, arranging the water glass, a fork and several 
matches into various designs. 

"Have a drink, Mead?" Sheridan said, trying to keep 
the scholastic awe out of his voice. 

"Thanks," said Mead. "Maybe one. A nightcap." 

Sheridan beckoned the waiter and caught Peters' eye 
again. To such a man we owe a debt, he signaled. Even 
two drinks and twenty minutes' conversation is not too 
much. 

"Can you imagine?" said Mead. "They don't even 
know who Firdausi is. Can you imagine living in a town 
fifteen years where they never even heard of Firdausi?" 

"You mean Joe Firdausi, the agent?" Peters said. They 
were writing a farce comedy at the moment and keyed for 
wit. 

"An agent they would have known," Mead said. "Up at , 
Vonn's party, I'm talking about, playing Who Am I? So I 
take Firdausi, you know, the Persian epic poet, and every- 
body screams it shouldn't count because he's too obscure." 

Mead drank the straight Scotch the waiter brought him 
without asking, and it was only when he tried to raise the 
glass to his lips that Sheridan and Peters saw how drunk 
he was. 

" 'Obscure!,' I told them," Mead continued, " 'So ob- 
scure the encyclopedia gives him a full page, that's how 
obscure!' So then Birdie Slocum, that noted historical 
scholar, says, 'I never heard of such a man.' So I told 
Birdie, 'That's because his name has never been in the 
Hollywood Reporter.' " 

"Did you really tell her that?" Sheridan asked. 

Birdie Slocum was the wife of Mead's producer. Mead 
twirled the empty whiskey glass idly. The young men 
looked at each other guiltily. They knew his reputation 
for post-facto courage. 



THIRD NIGHTCAP 293 

"I don't know how to play that game in this town," 
Mead said. "If you pick Churchill or Eisenhower they get 
sore because they think you're insulting their intelligence. 
And if you pick anything tougher than that, they think 
you're trying to show off." 

Peters and Sheridan said nothing. They were afraid 
Mead was going to ask them if they knew who Firdausi 
was. "Have another?" Sheridan urged. 

"Well, all right," said Mead. "But this is the nightcap. 
Firdausi. The greatest poet in the history of Persia. The 
author of The Book of Kings. Even the savage tribesmen 
in the hills recite Firdausi." 

The waiter brought Mead his drink and he raised it in 
toast. "To Firdausi," he said, "whom Birdie Slocum will 
never know." 

"And last week it was Tilly," Mead was saying into his 
empty glass. "And Vonn wouldn't count him either. Can 
you beat that, a German and he never heard of Tilly? 
Tilly, the Catholic general. The Thirty Years' War. It's 
like an American not knowing Washington." He re- 
moved his glasses and rubbed his red eyes irritably. "And 
the week before that, Vico, the Italian philosopher. And 
before that, Timothy Dwight." 

Mead studied the two young men with pensive amuse- 
ment. His face looked as if it had been drawn on an egg, 
the narrowing side down, the forehead broad and bulb- 
ous. 

"Fifteen years in a town that never heard of Firdausi 
or Tilly or Vico or Dwight," said Mead. 

"Have another one," Sheridan said. 

"But this really has to be the nightcap," Mead said. 
"I've got a conference with Slocum at ten." 

After the third nightcap, Mead said, "When I was your 
age, at least I used to stand for something. I was a Social- 
ist. I voted for Debs. Now I haven't got enough freedom 
of speech to talk back to Birdie Slocum." 



294 



The young men were ready to call it a night, but 
neither would make a move. After all it wasn't every day 
in the week that they could sit down with Elliot Mead, 
former historical scholar, now thirty-five hundred a week. 

The waiter yawned and turned off as many lights as he 
could with ostentatious discretion. The old writer and 
the two young ones sat there in the empty bar. 

"Don't make so much noise turning off those lights," 
Mead reprimanded. "Remember, there are people here 
trying to sleep." 

The waiter laughed joylessly and Sheridan and Peters 
looked at each other in mutual acknowledgment of 
Mead's reputation for repeatable quips. 

Mead smiled with them. He was not going to keep that 
ten o'clock date in the morning. He was going to sit 
up with these boys, impress them with his wit and knowl- 
edge, get good and drunk, and have his secretary call the 
studio to say he was sick. 

"I know what let's do," Mead suggested. "Let's play 
one quick game. I am somebody whose name begins with 
C. Now, who am I?" 

"Are you a brilliant French economist of the mercantile 
period?" Sheridan began, reaching back into freshman 
history. 

"No," Mead said, smiling, warming to the game, "I am 
not Jean Baptiste Colbert. . . ." 



295 



OUR WHITE DEER 



One afternoon, early last fall, we were back at the far end 
of our property having a meeting in our underground 
clubhouse. My brother Davy and I had dug it out that past 
summer and covered it over with pine branches and tar 
paper. We were just climbing out of our secret tunnel 
when along came Mr. Jeliffe on horseback, riding his side 
of the fence. Mr. Jeliffe is very rich and has a mustache 
and a big red face and a house that's about ten times as 
big as ours. 

People around where we live don't put on much dog; 
they just do their writing or their painting, stuff like that, 
and mess around in their gardens and go for long walks 
across the fields. The simple life, that's what we always 
hear them calling it. Well, Mr. Jeliffe, he leads the sim- 
ple life in a pretty rich kind of a way. I mean he rides to 
the hounds and gives hunt breakfasts and big deals like 
that. It's sort of funny in a way because when he first came 



296 



out here only two or three years ago he couldn't even ride 
a horse. He still flops around on his buhwhosis but nobody 
laughs at him to his face because he's so rich. He cornered 
the market on copper or cotton or something like that 
when the army needed it real bad to win the war and Dad 
says that's about the only way to get rich any more. You'd 
think that having all that money would make a fella nicer, 
that he'd sort of relax and smile at everybody and just en- 
joy his money. But not Mr. Jeliffe. Mr. Jeliffe is — even if 
Dad says he wishes we wouldn't use the word — a jerk. 

Like the time he caught us in his orchard eating a few of 
his apples. Dad says it doesn't pay to spray our orchard so 
our apples are all wormy. That's why, once in a while, we 
have to go over and try some of Mr. Jeliffe's apples. 
They're Mackintosh, and I guess all the worms must have 
come over to our place because they sure don't mess 
around with Mr. Jeliffe's apples. Well, this time Mr. 
Jeliffe caught us — red-apple-handed, says Dave, who's ten 
years old and still likes to pun. He reined in his horse 
and looked bigger than God and he said, "Boys, I don't 
think it's a very good idea for you to be over here. I raise 
Dobermans and they'd sooner bite you than look at you 
and I wouldn't be responsible for your safety." 

See what we mean? He didn't come right out and tell us 
to get the H off his property or he'd sick the dogs on us. He 
made it sound like he was trying to do us a favor by get- 
ting us out of his lousy old orchard without those Dober- 
mans eating us up. Lousy is another word Dad doesn't like 
us to use; in fact he fines us a nickel every time he hears it, 
only there are some words that are bad words but there 
just aren't any good words that mean the same thing. Like 
the jerky way Mr. Jeliffe went about ordering us out of his 
orchard. 

Well, anyway, we were just climbing out of our club- 
house, which is a swell hideaway nearly four feet deep and 
just big enough for the three members of our club, when 



OUR WHITE DEER 297 

there sits Mr. Jeliffe on his big white horse Captain, mak- 
ing like he's Teddy Roosevelt or something. 

"Howdy, boys," he says. He's getting pretty Western 
since he's been riding around on that horse. He's about to 
ride on and then he remembers something and leans his 
horse around. 

"Say, Steve, that ram of yours — does he have any horns?" 

Davy and I looked at each other and shook our heads. 
"Not that we ever noticed, why?" 

"Well, maybe I was imagining things but seems to me 
when I was riding along your meadow fence the other day, 
I thought I saw a white ram with a beautiful set of horns, 
trotting right along with the ewes. Of course I was about a 
hundred yards away, so . . ." 

"Sure, maybe it just looked like it, an optical delu- 
sion or something." I looked at Davy and we were both 
embarrassed because everyone knew Mr. Jeliffe liked his 
whiskey — that's the way Mom says it — and from what I 
hear you can see some pretty strange sights when too much 
whiskey gets inside of you. 

"I'll admit it was only for a second I saw him and then 
he saw me and took off pronto. But still, I was pretty sure 
. . ." He broke off and suddenly guffawed for no good 
reason. "Maybe it was one of Schofield's rams got in with 
your flock. Well, I was just wondering — you don't think 
it could've been a white deer, do you? The head of a ten- 
point white buck would look pretty nice over the mantle- 
piece in my study." 

He dug his heels into the big belly of his horse and rode 
off. Davy put his thumb to his nose and wiggled his fin- 
gers at him. A white deer, and over his mantlepiece! In 
the first place every autumn since we were little kids some- 
one has told us about someone else who's pretty sure he's 
seen a white deer. But I am almost twelve years old now 
and I had never seen one and I had still to meet anybody 
who had honest and truly seen one with his own eyes. 



298 



And in the second place, if that thousand-to-one shot came 
in and there really-truly was a white deer wandering 
around our place, what would his head be doing over Mr. 
Jeliffe's mantelpiece? He was in our meadow with our 
sheep, wasn't he? If there was such a thing as a white deer, 
and if he was anybody's white deer, he was ours, wasn't 
he? Mr. Jeliffe just better keep his greedy old hands off 
him. Even if our white deer didn't exist, we didn't like 
Mr. Jeliffe even thinking about him. 

We spread more pine branches over the tar-paper roof 
and filled the tunnel up so nobody would know we had a 
clubhouse there at all and then we ambled over to the 
lower pasture where there was an old dead apple tree that 
had been our first clubhouse when Davy was still going to 
nursery school. Our initials were carved in that tree, and 
the secret sign of our club, and we still used the ladder to 
the tree-house to climb up once in a while to see if any 
enemy was approaching. Well, this time as soon as we got 
to the tree we noticed something funny. Where the carv- 
ing had been, the trunk was almost bare and there were 
slash-marks all up and down this one side, as if — we looked 
at each other and wondered — as if the horns of some ani- 
mal had been slicing at it to sharpen his points. Plenty of 
times we had seen bulls do that, and rams — but we didn't 
have any bulls and our ram Hector had only those two 
little hard bulges where his horns ought to be. And yet 
these slashed-off places on the tree were fresh as anything. 

Well, naturally we knew better than to pay attention to 
anything Mr. Jeliffe had to say, but just to make double- 
sure we kept checking on the flock. We watched them 
come in every evening and quite a few times we even went 
out after supper and walked up as far as the pine woods 
that run along the west line of our place and the Jeliffes'. 
But we didn't see any white deer. In fact we had just 
about given up and decided that Mr. Jeliffe was talking 
through his hat, as usual, when we happened to be picking 



OUR WHITE DEER 299 

up some groceries for Mom at the country store. Billy, 
whose pop runs the store, is a big kid, maybe fifteen or six- 
teen, and a pretty good friend of ours. He lets us go with 
him when he sets out his muskrat traps and he lets us play 
with his hunting dogs and once in a while he even takes us 
along when he goes gunning. Billy was an Eagle Scout and 
he pitches on the school baseball team and when he says 
something you can bet it's true. Well, anyway, while 
Billy is picking out some oranges for us, he says, "Say, you 
fellers haven't got a new ram up at your place, have you?" 

Davy and I looked at each other. This was getting mys- 
terious and kind of exciting. "Uh-uh. Why, Billy?" 

"Well, when I was setting up traps last night, I 
thought I saw a ram in your meadow, with great big 
horns." 

"Billy, could it've been a deer — a white buck?" 

"Well, it ain't exactly impossible. They do turn up 
every now and again. My old man saw one around here 
when I was a kid, maybe ten or twelve years ago." 

That white deer — how can I explain it? — he was our 
white deer. Whether he was for real, or just a fragment 
of our imagination, like Dad says sometimes, he belonged 
to us. We wanted to see him and try to make a pet out of 
him. We didn't want anybody to hurt him. Mr. Jeliffe just 
better keep his dirty hands to himself. 

"Say, Billy, this white deer, when gunning season starts, 
you don't think anybody'd try to shoot him, do you?" 

"Well, I wouldn't, for one," Billy said. "You know what 
they say about killing a white deer? It's twice as unlucky 
as bustin' a mirror." 

"Mr. Jeliffe better remember that." 

"That joker," Billy said. "Last season I saw him open 
up on a hen pheasant on the ground. He's from the city 
and I guess he don't know any better. He's liable to da 
anything." 

"Well, he better stay away from our white deer or I'll 



300 



shoot him in the kiester with my bee-bee gun," Davy said. 
Davy likes to use words like that. 

"Let me know if you spot 'im, fellers," Billy said as he 
handed us the grocery bags. 

We went out after supper that night and we looked and 
looked and we got in so late that Mom said what on earth 
were we doing out there in the meadow two hours after 
our bedtime. We didn't tell anybody but we set our alarm 
for three o'clock, with the clock under our pillow so it 
wouldn't ring but just buzz in our ear. There was almost a 
full moon and it sure was beautiful, only a little chilly 
when the wind came up, and finally we had to go in with- 
out seeing anything that even looked like a white deer. 
Wf did the same thing the next night and the next and the 
next and we were getting so pooped that we were yawning 
all over the place and Davy fell asleep right in the middle 
of his arithmetic. But we still hadn't seen our white deer. 

That Friday after school we asked permission to go up 
to our clubhouse and camp out overnight. The moon was 
full and awfully close, like it was out there to light the 
meadow for us so we'd be sure not to miss him if he came 
down. We made up stories to tell each other to keep our- 
selves awake but by around one o'clock Davy was so sleepy 
that he'd slip off into little cat naps while he was talking. 
We were just about to call it a night and crawl into the 
clubhouse when all of a sudden I saw something that 
looked like branches moving out of the woods. 

"Davy, look! Look over there!" 

You could only see his antlers and the front of his 
head poking out of the woods, but there wasn't any 
doubt about it — the head was white. It was our white 
deer all right. 

Davy shouted, "Oh, boy, there he is — isn't he a beaut!" 
and sort of clapped his hands without meaning to. The 
head of the white buck popped back into the pines and 
we could hear him taking off through the woods. 



OUR WHITE DEER 301 

The next night we were all ready for him. We took 
some corn from the crib and made a trail of it from the 
pine woods to the middle of the meadow. Then we got 
down behind the fence and we tried not to move, even 
when we itched. The moon threw a path of light across 
the meadow and the stars looked cold and bright. The 
only sound in the world was the breeze blowing in from 
the river. We kept our eyes on the spot where we had 
seen him poke through the night before. Maybe two hours 
went by, or maybe it was only twenty minutes. It was hard 
to tell, out there in the moonlight with Davy and me not 
saying a word to each other and hardly even breathing. 
And then, there he was again, in the same spot where we 
had seen him the night before. 

This time we didn't say a word and we didn't move a 
peg. We froze like hunting dogs and now we were really 
holding our breaths. He pushed his head out and looked 
around, and then we could see his neck and his haunches, 
and they were white, as white as first snow in December. 
He nibbled the nearest ear of corn and we held our 
breaths as long as we could and loved the sight of him. 
With another slow and careful look he moved on to the 
next ear of corn. Now, for the first time, we could see 
all of him. He was big and lean as a racehorse and you 
could see how proud he was of those wonderful antlers. 
Davy swore he was a sixteen-pointer, and he had at 
least twelve, anyhow, and the way they stood out in the 
moonlight against the black green of the pines was one of 
the most elegant sights we ever hope to see. He stood 
right out there in front of us for at least five minutes, or 
it could have been half an hour, and he moved with his 
head high, wearing those antlers as proud as a king. We 
stood still, so still that we ached, and then Davy couldn't 
hold it any more and shifted his feet. 

Snowy — that's what we had decided to call him — jerked 
his head and sniffed the air and looked straight at us, 



302 



right into our eyes, it seemed, and the moonlight made 
his eyes glow like a lit-up reindeer we had seen in the 
window of a big city store at Christmas time. He watched 
us for maybe a minute and we watched him, and then 
he was off, sailing over the meadow, a white streak of 
deer-speed that would have outrun Man o' War. 

Every night after that we left corn for Snowy and al- 
most every night he came down from the pine woods. 
Each time he was a little bolder and more sure of him- 
self. I think he knew we were there. I think he was sort 
of showing off for us. He would finish the corn and 
look over to where he had seen us the first time and lower 
his head two or three times as if he was bowing to us. 
We planned to get closer and closer to him, and one of 
these days, when he learned where his food came from 
and who his friends were, we hoped maybe we could get 
him to eat right out of our hands. Yes, and maybe we 
would have, if the darned gunning season hadn't come 
along. 

We hadn't told anybody about our white deer, not even 
Mom or Dad or Billy, for fear the news would get back 
to Mr. Jeliffe and he'd get after Snowy with his rifle 
and try to bag him for that mantelpiece in his den. It 
didn't seem right that anything as proud and handsome 
as Snowy's twelve- or fourteen-point antlers should end 
up on the wall of a loudmouth like Mr. Jeliffe. So every 
time we heard a shot up on the hill we were awfully nerv- 
ous, for we knew that Mr. Jeliffe and some of his friends 
were gunning over there near the pine woods. We asked 
Dad not to let Mr. Jeliffe gun on our side of the line but 
Dad said that was rather hard to do because after all we 
were neighbors and it was local custom for neighbors to 
gun each other's places even when they were posted. So 
all we could do was hope and pray and that night when 
we snuck down to the meadow we felt like cheering out 
loud because Snowy showed up as usual. The night was 



OUR WHITE DEER 303 

a little darker now because the moon was beginning to 
shrink again but he was still one beautiful sight. We 
watched him go trotting off into the woods proud as a 
king and I think if Mr. Jeliffe had showed up with his gun 
just then and shot old Snowy down, we'd of grabbed that 
gun away from him and murdered him in cold blood. 

Late the next afternoon we heard a shot up in the 
woods, from the far end of our line and we ran out with 
our fingers crossed and our hearts twisting up. There at 
the boundary line of our place and his was Mr. Jeliffe, 
peering into the woods. 

"So you kids didn't believe we had a white deer up 
here?" he said. "Well, I just got a shot at him and I 
think I nicked him but he ran off into the woods. You 
c'n come along and help me look for him if you want to. 
He might be dying somewhere in there. How would you 
like a nice venison steak to bring home to Dad?" 

He thought he was so great, standing up there with his 
gun. 

"Don't you know it's bad luck shooting a white deer, 
Mr. Jeliffe? Billy Yeager says it's even worse'n busting a 
mirror." 

Mr. Jeliffe laughed. "Those silly superstitions. Don't 
tell me two intelligent boys like you won't pass under a 
ladder and are scared of black cats." 

As a matter of fact we weren't a bit superstitious and 
we used to tease Billy because he'd turn around when- 
ever he saw a black cat. But all of a sudden we were 
awfully superstitious about Snowy. We knew it was bad 
luck to kill Snowy. Anybody deserved bad luck if he even 
thought of killing anything as handsome and proud and 
beautiful as Snowy was when he ventured into the meadow 
that first evening and pointed his antlers at the moon. 

So our hearts kept twisting up as we walked along 
with Mr. Jeliffe searching for Snowy's body on the piny 
floor of the woods. His dogs kept sniffing, stopping and 



304 



then running forward and any second we were afraid 
they would lead us to the fallen body of poor Snowy. 
But he wasn't to be found. He had disappeared some- 
where into the woods. Mr. Jeliffe got angry and said 
some bad words. "I'm going to get that S.O.B. of a buck 
yet," he said. It made Davy and me feel pretty bad to 
hear Snowy, our beautiful white deer Snowy, called a 
name like that. 

We worried about him all that night. We slipped out 
to the pasture but he wasn't there. It was snowing a little 
bit, and mighty cold, but we waited as long as we could, 
until Davy's teeth got to chattering so loud we had to go 
in. 

That night I dreamt about Snowy. There was a ter- 
rible wound from a bullet in his sleek white chest and 
then he was gone and Davy and I were following a 
trail of blood across the white fields beyond the woods. I 
woke up half bawling and I heard Davy say, "What's the 
matter, Steve?" He wasn't in his bed. He was sitting on 
the window ledge staring out at the snow. I told him 
about my dream and he said he had woke himself up 
with a dream too. He dreamt that the two of us had gone 
hunting for Mr. Jeliffe and we had shot him right be- 
tween the eyes and his head was mounted over the 
mantel of our fireplace with the bullet holes in his fore- 
head making him look like a man with four eyes. 

We kept leaving corn for Snowy night after night and 
we stayed up as late as we could on school nights in the 
hope of seeing him again, but it looked like he must have 
crawled off into the woods and died somewhere. We sure 
missed him. He wasn't like our dog Toro or our cat 
Quaker; we had never fed him or patted him or even so 
much as touched him. But Snowy was a pet to us just as 
much as if we had ridden him or taught him to sit up 
and shake hands. He was the only white deer we ever 
had and it felt like a knife inside to think of him dead 



OUR WHITE DEER 305 

and gone or crawling off to a lonely death. Every night, 
with less and less hope, we kept a lookout for him, until 
the last day of gunning season. That was a Saturday, so 
Davy and I decided to take a long hike through the woods 
and across a stream to an old deserted, broken-down stone 
house we used for an emergency headquarters. At the 
stream we had just stopped to kick the ice in and have a 
drink when suddenly Davy grabbed me by the shoulder 
and pointed. It was Snowy all right, big as life and twice 
as spry, having a drink about twenty-five yards upstream. 
Boy, we felt so good we could have thrown our arms 
around him and kissed him, only by that time he was 
gone, flying up over the rocks and away from the stream 
as if he had wings on his feet. 

So the last day of gunning was coming to an end and 
Snowy was still in one piece, kinging it over the woods. 
We should have known Mr. Jeliffe was just sounding off 
when he claimed to have hit him. Mr. Jeliffe liked to 
talk about his trophies, but he wasn't much of a shot. 
The way Billy put it, his aim was so poor he couldn't 
hit the water if he fell out of a boat. 

That evening, exactly a month from the time we had 
first seen him, we went up to the meadow again to see 
if Snowy would come down to visit us again. The moon 
was like a big white balloon hanging over our head in 
the cold sky. We had stopped putting corn out because 
we figured it was healthier for Snowy not to be lured out 
of the woods. But now we reckoned it was safe again so 
we tried our old trick of dropping a trail of corn into the 
middle of the meadow. If we could get Snowy to make a 
habit of coming down, we would have time to train him 
now. After a while we could get him to eat out of our 
hands. He would get used to us and let us lead him 
around. Maybe we could tame him to the point where we 
could bed him down in the barn. Wouldn't that be some- 
thing to show the kids at school, a fourteen-point white 



306 



buck for a pet! We'd be about the most famous kids in 
the county, and the luckiest, because if it's bad luck to 
shoot a white deer it must be good luck to help one keep 
from getting shot and to turn him into a pet. 

That's what Davy and I were whispering to each other 
when I'll be six kinds of a jack-rabbit if Snowy doesn't 
poke his head out of the woods, just the way he did the 
first time; poke his head out, take a good, slow, thought- 
ful look around and then mosey on into the meadow to 
nibble the corn, just as peaceful and unconcerned as if 
he was Hector the ram. 

We were watching him and thinking how noble and 
magnificent he looked when we heard a sharp whisper 
behind us — "Shh — quiet — and keep your heads down, 
boys." Mr. Jeliffe, with his damn gun, had come creeping 
up like an Indian. The moon was making a regular spot- 
light for Snowy and we saw Mr. Jeliffe raise his gun and 
take aim. 

I yelled, "Davy, Davy, chase him into the woods!" Davy 
and I started running forward and Snowy took off across 
the fields as if his tail was on fire. We'll never forget how 
beautiful he looked racing along the fence separating our 
place from the Jeliffe's, closer and closer to the dark 
pines. Mr. Jeliffe could never hit a target moving at that 
speed but somehow we couldn't stop running and shout- 
ing and waving our hands. Now he was almost to the 
woods, in the far corner of our property, only a few yards 
from the sheltering woods where Mr. Jeliffe could never 
get him. His speed must have been fifty or sixty miles an 
hour, and then, in one terrible moment, he wasn't moving 
forward at all. He was crashing down through the small- 
branch and tar-paper roof of our clubhouse; into the 
four-foot drop we had tunneled out as a secret meeting 
place. We ran up to the hole and looked in, feeling 
trembly all over, feeling sick. Snowy was thrashing around 
on the dirt floor of our clubhouse. We saw him struggle 



OUR WHITE DEER 307 

up nearly to a standing position on three legs and then 
topple over again. 

"God damn it," I said. "His leg is broke." 

When he rolled over on his side and tried to raise 
again you could see where his rear left leg was hanging 
loose. He looked up at us and we had never seen him so 
close, so close that we could touch him. His eyes were 
wild and sort of pleading and terribly angry and sad as 
death. 

Mr. Jeliffe came up behind us and looked in. "Well, 
looks like you trapped him, boys." 

I said to Mr. Jeliffe, "Go ahead shoot him. His leg is 
broke. You better shoot him quick." 

It made an awful noise. Davy and I didn't want to 
look, but finally we couldn't help it; we had to look. 
Snowy was lying all white and still and terribly dead at 
the bottom of our clubhouse. 

Mr. Jeliffe said, "Well, looks like we'll all be eating 
venison for a month." 

We didn't say anything. We just stood there thinking 
what kind of a man Mr. Jeliffe was and what a wonderful 
sight Snowy made the first time he lifted his antlers to 
the moon in our meadow. 

Mr. Jeliffe said, "Tell your dad I'll have my man hang 
him and butcher him for both of us. But if you boys 
don't mind I'd still like to have that head for the wall 
of my den." 

Davy, who says those things faster than I do, said 
just one word. It was the one he has to pay fifteen cents 
for every time Dad hears him saying it. 

Mr. Jeliffe said, "Keep your hands off that carcass, boys. 
I'll send my man over to carry it back." 

Davy and I didn't say anything. We both knew at the 
same time what we had to do. We went to the edge of the 
pines and broke off as many branches as we could carry. We 
covered Snowy with them and went back for another load. 



308 



We had to work fast because Jeliffe's man would be 
coming back any minute. Then, while Davy went on 
piling fallen branches and dead wood on top of the pine, 
I double-timed it back to the house for some matches. By 
the time I got back Davy had done a good job. It was a 
regular funeral pyre. I held a match to some of the pine 
branches and they caught like paper. We stood back and 
watched the flames leaping up. 

When Snowy was once more ash and dust and bone we 
would fill in our clubhouse with dirt and trample it down 
hard, so the dead would be safe from dogs and buzzards 
and Mr. Jeliffe. We would set up a cross with Snowy's 
name on it. He was our white deer. Never again would 
Snowy come trotting into our pasture bearing his antlers 
like the crown of a king. But by God, neither was Mr. 
Jeliffe going to have Snowy's wonderful white head 
mounted on his wall. 



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